Arts / Museums

Three Must-See Houston Art Shows — From an Asia Society Stunner to Indian Mythology to Cat Butt Parfait

It's a Wide World in H-Town

BY // 08.09.19

Those in Houston this summer have been rewarded with dual exhibitions that challenge art norms via the interweaving of beauty and activism. Both exhibits feature artists with connections to the Asian continent.

A third combines a sense of the grotesque, ridiculous, and surreal — alongside one of the most popular subjects in the entire art world, and on social media. Read on.

Asia Calling

Talk about timeliness, and a respite — and a response — to the current climate of xenophobia.

A museum and a gallery both spin stories of diversity around artists of Asian descent who are connected to our community and state.

At Asia Society Texas Center, “Site Lines: Artists Working in Texas,” curated by the museum’s Bridget Bray, culls five visual talents from China, India, Japan, Pakistan and Vietnam who incorporate varied media, practices and materials to address immigration, identity, and sociopolitical and cultural concerns.

As the title indicates, this quintet all make their respective homes in Texas.

The two takeaways in the pristine space of the Asia Society are serene, commanding installations, both with hidden depths. One references Iraqi deaths in the ongoing war, and the other, a personal relationship evidencing the fragility of life.

Houston-based Prince Varughese Thomas and Tyler-based Abhidnya Ghuge respectively employed 195,000 copper pennies and 8,000 paper plates — their scene-stealers were created with the help of a dozen local volunteers.

The resulting artworks by Thomas and Ghuge would be the talk of any town, including even jaded Manhattan — and underscore Asia Society’s new commitment to becoming a destination for contemporary art in the Houston museum mix. For “Site Lines” is the rare show that is a match to Asia Society’s Yoshio Taniguchi gem of a building.

Installation view of Prince Varughese Thomas at “Site Lines: Artists Working in Texas” at Asia Society Texas Center (Photo by Paul Hester)
Installation view of Prince Varughese Thomas at “Site Lines: Artists Working in Texas” at Asia Society Texas Center (Photo by Paul Hester)

Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, an international filmmaker residing in Houston who’s a veteran of many biennials, uses baseball as a metaphor to tell the history of the art-centric Japanese island of Inujima.

Rounding out the exhibition are complex, instinctual collages by Austin-area Ambreen Butt and nuanced hand-cut paper and graphite drawings by UT Austin professor Beili Liu that pulse with quiet energy.

Wondrous Wall Works

In the gallery world, former Texas painter Amita Bhatt returns from her native India to exhibit canvases featuring her signature mythology informed by the Indian subcontinent in “Between Light and Shadow” at Deborah Colton Gallery.

Amita Bhatt’s “A Fantastic Collision of the Three Worlds V,” 2009, at Deborah Colton Gallery
Amita Bhatt’s “A Fantastic Collision of the Three Worlds V,” 2009, at Deborah Colton Gallery

The whip-like lines of the drawings within Bhatt’s paintings, rendered against simple backgrounds, conjure beings within a world.

While her paintings are very good indeed — displaying mythological creatures and deities rendered in the rich, lapidary tones of the Indian subcontinent — it’s the drawings that linger in the consciousness. Made with charcoal and oil stick on what appears to be un-primed canvas, they are fantastical at every turn, evidencing an intuitive grasp of the concept of horror vacui spun into its most anthropomorphic conclusion.

Titillating Title

What do you say about an exhibition whose title alone stops us in our tracks.

That’s certainly the case at Galveston Arts Center, where curator Dennis Nance brings the Dallas duo Chuck & George — aka Brian K. Jones and Brian K. Scott — to town for their Houston debut.

(Photo by CDA)
At Galveston Arts Center, Chuck & George’s very strange installation made for some startling social media. (Photo by CDA)

For this grand solo, “Cat Butt Parfait,” the collaborators and real-life partners invoke painting, sculpture, drawing, ceramics, furniture and installation vignettes, including a participatory photo backdrop of the oddest nature, to offer an ode to “the ecosystem of domestic feline digestion.”

There’s also a message about gay rights manifested here.

The unforgettable parfait that is “Cat Butt Parfait” signals one of the most captivating exhibitions in a string of strong shows that Nance has curated since picking up the scepter from former GAC talent scout, the iconic Clint Willour, almost three years ago.

“Site Lines: Artists Working in Texas,” through August 18, at Asia Society Texas Center.

“Amita Bhatt: Between Light and Shadow,” through August 10, at Deborah Colton Gallery.

“Chuck & George: Cat Butt Parfait” through August 18, at Galveston Arts Center.

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