Gilbert Hsiao in Unlikely Iterations of the Abstract, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX

Gilbert Hsiao, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX, 2013

Gilbert Hsiao, Hit Parade (installation detail), 2013
Acrylic on 7, 10, and 12-inch vinyl records, revolving turntables, blacklights
Dimensions variable
Photo: Ariane Roesch

October 31, 2013 – January 5, 2014

Curated by Bill Arning, Director, CAMH

Abstraction, as a language, remains linked to the high modernism left behind in its original form somewhere in the last century. It is with the comic actors’ absurdist sense of repetition that abstraction reappears in unlikely places. The artists in UIA all work through processes, technologies, and time that have little to do with the history of abstraction from Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, and Kazimir Malevich and yet—boom!—abstraction reappears. These artists also give us a visual experience that forces us to use the critical language developed to discuss earlier modes of abstraction.

This is true even when the manifestation is made from non-traditional materials and employs oddball methodologies that speak of science or culture in ways that are anything but pure. These wild re-imaginings of a hundred-year-old tradition provoke a critical contextualization that could have fallen from the mouths of Kandinsky, Harold Rosenberg, Clement Greenberg, or Donald Judd, or please the pedagogical imperatives of Hans Hoffman. These Janus-faced artworks speak with great affection to a received tradition that might be like stubborn and charming ghosts, unaware that time has passed.

The show mixes the established masters of non-traditional and conceptual abstraction—including first Houston appearances of Tauba Auerbach, Carol Bove, Tom Burr, Jeffrey Gibson, and Stephen Prina—with other respected artists already familiar to Houston audiences like Mark Flood, Danielle Frankenthal, Gavin Perry, and Jack Pierson.

There are many smile-inducing moments, such as when you encounter surfaces made of rich peacock feathers, Native American drums, and fragments of old store signs turned into credible abstractions. There is also a slight melancholy to this humor as the grand claims of earlier abstractionists are no longer available to artists of today.

The exhibition features 16 artists from New York, Boston, Houston, and Dallas including: Tauba Auerbach, Chris Bogia, Carol Bove, Tom Burr, Julia Dault, Gabriel Dawe, Cheryl Donegan, Christian Eckart, Mark Flood, Danielle Frankenthal, Jeffrey Gibson, Nathan Green, Gilbert Hsiao, Paul Lee, Daniel Levine, Gavin Perry, Jack Pierson, Stephen Prina, and Brian Zink.