May 24 – July 14, 2017
Elizabeth Houston Gallery presents SUPERSTAR, a new group exhibition updating our image of Xanadu with phantasmagoric works of celebrity and space. Society’s long-held fascination with the stars and its love for celebrity culture revolves around two different types of celestial bodies — the astrological and the feminine. Artists in the exhibition synthesize these two identities under the “superstar” label, delivering a multivalent show about feminism, fame, heroism, and otherness.
Our relationship with the stars is defined by distance. Artists like Lais Pontes, Silas Schletterer, and Tracy Stuckey bridge this gap through the fantasy of closeness. Pontes prints a diverse cast of female personae onto mirrors. Consequently, the viewer’s own identity becomes that of the heroine’s; our conception of someone else’s identity becomes our own. Inspired by films and fashion photography, Schletterer paints beautiful and lonely characters searching for perfection and happiness. The determination and expressiveness in the eyes of his figures compel the viewer to empathize with their journeys. Stuckey’s paintings collapse fictionalized tropes of the American West with its iconographical reality. Romanticism for the frontier must confront the cultural costumes of “Wild West” branding.
Other artists deploy a surrealist aesthetic to capture their superstars. In Violet Plains (2017), Kaia Miller composes a dreamlike self-portrait. The moon hangs above her head like a halo while stars cover her body. At the center, Miller evokes a childlike innocence, a daydream about the cosmos.
Jack Balas creates brilliant watercolors that capture the epic heroism of everyday people. El Mundo Pequeño (2016) depicts a young man defensively holding a small version of the globe to his chest. He poses as a defiant protector of the world, balanced in the picture plane by two strings at his waist.
Elsewhere, artists have incorporated abstraction to capture the grandeur of space and science. At first glance, Michael Naijar’s Space debris II (2012) seems to depict the corona of a solar eclipse. Upon closer inspection, however, the viewer sees a deluge of sharply printed white spheres populating the photograph. The artist’s crisp and polished aesthetic finds beauty in the geometries of space. Kevin Cooley takes scientific intrigue into the laboratory, presenting the chromatic beauty of thermodynamics. Moon Traveler II (2013) is a pyrotechnic triptych that uses fireworks on light-sensitive paper to create abstractions, themselves a neon pink representation of our entropic universe.
Rounding out the exhibition is Anne Spalter’s hypnotizing video installation, Wonder Why (2017), a complex piece about Wonder Woman and the conspicuous absence of more superheroines in popular culture. In Spalter’s piece, Wonder Woman herself is silent, roving across planet Earth in her covert airplane. Quietly, she monitors the world’s global cities, picking up meditative sonic frequencies and kaleidoscopic imagery. Combined, these elements create a hypnotic, surreal capstone to SUPERSTAR, allowing viewers to contemplate how the various mythologies of fame create their own firmaments.
— Zachary Small
Zachary Small is a writer and critic based in New York City. He’s written for many publications including Artsy, Art in America, Art21 Magazine, BOMB Magazine, and Hyperallergic. He was recently awarded the CUE Foundation’s 2017 Young Art Critic Fellowship.