My first trip to Lawndale Art Center gave me fond flashbacks of helping my best friend install her gargantuan, organic, usually beige creations during her days at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. I was a prep school kid, and I loved holding up pieces of her hanging conch shells while she maniacally drilled in ceiling supports.
Lawndale has recently launched a lunchtime program for media and friends to come and chat with the artists a few days before an opening, when the gallery is especially alive and hectic.
Houstonian Monica Vidal was in the midst of constructing an enormous, multicolored tent reminiscent of Dr. Seuss illustrations. It will be totally closed off by opening night, but I got to duck inside of her colorful creation. She's making a matching suit out of small felt circles, and had enlisted a patient volunteer to help finish sewing the pants. Once completed, I imagine she'll look something like an exuberant Foghorn Leghorn — without the cockscomb.
Upstairs Kia Neill had a ways to go on her Grotto. She's creating a hallway encroached upon by artificial stalagmites made of chicken wire and paper maché and lit from within by Christmas lights, which reflect off small geometric growths she assembled from broken CDs. With much of the ceiling and walls still uncovered, I'm nervous for her. If she get's it finished, two-way traffic through the piece will be tricky. But she's determined; the deafening peal of a drill later interrupted our quiet lunch. "Kia's here," Exhibitions and Programming Director Dennis Nance explained matter-of-factly.
My favorite installation was indisputably Vicious Venue by Austin-based artist Shawn Smith. Smith is a successful commercial artist, which speaks to Lawndale's value as an explorative space. "It's not just for whacked out young artists," noted Nance.
With the help of his wife, Smith transformed an upstairs project space into a 1950s-era detective's office, complete with a glass of scotch, bulletin boards papered with suspects and a coffee mug emblazoned with red lipstick. Life-sized vultures made of tiny, individually dyed squares of wood rip apart the office. Smith made the vultures appear pixilated, questioning our distant understanding of nature, and has positioned them feeding on archaic technologies like typewriters, rotary phones and reels of film.
The attention to detail is what's truly remarkable; even a stack of sugar cubes is constructed to echo the pixilation of the birds.
The exhibit opens Friday and will be on view until January 9, 2010.