Over the past year or so, artists Alex Goss and Shana Hoehn have spent quite a bit of time talking about starting up a new exhibition space. Their idea was to create an organic space where new works could be created and presented with no formal parameters holding them back. In the spring of this year, their idea for their new space finally reached fruition through the birth of Moonmist. Moonmist, sharing its name with the Houston street on which it is located, is a stunning new exhibition platform and gallery of sorts that harnesses fresh bodies of work in a mid-century bungalow just outside the West Loop.
The beautiful home, found in an unsuspecting and sleepy suburban neighborhood, fits right in with its surroundings. In fact, the only indication of the new space is a small hand-written sign perched on the grass with the word “Moonmist” and an arrow pointing towards the front door. When visiting the new gallery, most of the time you don’t walk into the house itself, but instead go around the side gate to the backyard where most of the gallery’s works are presented. For Houston, you might think this option is a bit odd given the common local weather choices are underwater or unbearably and scorchingly hot, but the artist duo makes it work to a remarkable outcome.
The concept of non-traditional exhibition spaces is not a new one. At the turn of the 20th century, it was common and accepted for artists to show their works in non-gallery settings like bars or parlors. Paris was full of these locations, and collectors back then always clamored to be “in the know” about the next cool opening. Fast forward to New York City in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and studios, abandoned buildings and basements were common locations for exciting performances and wildly unpredictable sculptural and installation projects. Andy Warhol’s very own studio, The Factory, became one of these destinations. Artists, collectors and celebrities were known to co-mingle and party with each other in his famous space. These art denizens of lore realized that these kinds of “anything can happen” settings were exhilarating because they had so much more raw energy to provide than the typical white drywall of a gallery. It was a way to keep the beauty in its original habit and keep the artwork anchored in its natural setting. While it may have taken some advertising to get the right people to these odd and un-gallery locations, it was provocative and stimulating — people always wanted to come back to them.
In similar fashion, the clever inner workings of Moonmist also captures the pulse of the moment. Casting aside the option of a gallery located within a house or living room, Goss and Hoehn decided to instead utilize unconventional locations on the property. Rather than adapting inside rooms to display art, they have decided to present in the house’s laundry room, still-functioning garage space, backyard storage shed, and various other locations in the backyard. Much like the Munster Skulptur Projekte of Germany, famous for tucking museum installations and sculptures in dim lit bathrooms, hedges and draped over street lamps, Moonmist lets the artistic and curatorial vision shine true.
In keeping with that organic theme, Goss and Hoehn decided not to try to adapt the outdoor spaces of Moonmist to look like a gallery that had been relocated outside, instead deciding to use the space as it was. They avoided painting or building any new structures to exhibit upon and instead embraced the natural environment of the yard.
In their latest exhibition, Cowlick, Moonmist presents the works of seven exciting artists: Shannon Crider, Anthony Iacono, Ariel Jackson, Val Karuskevich, Gracelee Lawrence, Mores McWreath and Corinne Spencer. All of the artists come from a variety of backgrounds, with most of them from out of town with the exception of Shannon Crider, the most recent artist in residence at Lawndale Art Center.
While you might think, given the situation, that all the works would need to be site-specific installations, that is not the case here. That’s the reason why this show is so fascinating. The fabric-based work of Shannon Crider, for example, hangs from the branches of a tree in the yard and billows in the wind as it’s illuminated by a generic flood lamp light from below. The piece, from her series “TV Guides,” is a series of stills from various TV series and shows that have been digitally printed onto a light and wispy translucent fabric. While clearly delicate and not meant for the outdoor elements, it floats ethereally inside the tree branches as if naturally selected to be purposed there, almost as if the digital signals themselves were caught within a spider’s web.
Rounding the corner of a plain wooden wall, you are greeted by two pieces by Gracelee Lawrence (Austin) and Anthony Iacono (NYC). Lawrence’s work is a relief-like sculpture hanging on a wooden fence that is crowned with the flowering vines of the outdoor world. The piece, titled “know who you are at every age,” is a floating and flexing arm with fingers that are grasping a hair tie, as if in contemplation from the not-pictured head.
Iacono’s work is a vibrant acrylic painting on collaged paper that teases the viewer with a set of hot pink legs. Iacono’s collages typically feature high contrast and brightly colored pops, like vignettes and sexy details of the human body. Moonmist’s selection of Iacono’s piece for this exhibition is reserved while also still being rather racey and enticing. Together, the two artist hold a corner of personal and intimate moments, perhaps playing slightly to the location just outside of facilitator Alex Goss’ bedroom window.
The media and video elements at Moonmist are important and are always present at their exhibitions.
“One of the original factors of starting Moonmist was to be able to show more works like video and new media that we felt were underrepresented on a regular basis within our local gallery system,” says Moonmist’s Shana Hoehn. “There are so many amazing media artists that we are missing out on, and here we have a place to show them.”
Walking throughout the Moonmist property, it’s clear that not only is this an agenda with their programming, it’s also being celebrated. Again, the works are meant to hold their own in the provided setting —they don’t get a built out black box room.
Ariel Jackson’s video in the exhibition, “Survival Tool,” features an unknown individual trying to piece together or build a axe-like weapon or tool. The video is projected upon a medium-sized chalkboard that is propped up against the wall of a small and dusty tool shed. As an added bonus, there is no need to artificially create the post-apocalyptic setting you get when watching the video. As you hunch over in the low ceilinged and hot shed, don’t be surprised if a spider webs tickles your elbows and neck!
When you wander back into the only sections of the house you are allowed in, you find yourself in a small laundry room with three 15-second looped videos from Mores McWreath. McWreath works mostly with videos that are featured exclusively on social media. The underlying commentary of his pieces is a tongue-in-cheek skewering of the world of social media that is embedded in all of our everyday realities.
The three videos, “So Angry,” “Step Aside” and “White Noise,” are brilliantly paired. “Step Aside” is a scrolling loop of store fronts, development construction and condos forever scrolling upwards as if a new giant Tower of Babylon is being built with the same gentrification tactics and shitty contract workers we see on these projects today. Meanwhile, “White Noise” features a symphony of shushing fingers. You are soon interrupted by the complacent conversation of the artist talking to his laid back persona on the phone in the video for “So Angry.” It’s a short, two-part conversation of concern about daily newsfeeds that he has no real intention of doing anything about, but quietly complains about in the video. Although the piece is on a loop, it sounds as if you could be listening to a conversation happening at a table over at a Midtown coffee shop where the chatting is traveling in a constant circle, an overly concerned yet mild conversation that will pass as soon as someone brings up the new gluten-free option of scones or the paleo diet.
Overall, Cowlick is a well-rounded exhibition that presents a calculated and intelligence stance against the white cube establishment.
“We never saw this project as a curatorial endeavor. We just started it as a way to show the works we found to be interesting and in a setting we found more inviting and comfortable like a backyard gathering,” Hoehn says with a chuckle. “However, I guess it has turned into that a bit, but that’s OK and it keeps it all fluid.”
Just as you might be viewing a piece of original artwork inside your home — beside a thrifted lamp or on the walls of the artist’s studio surrounded by a pile of empty beer cans — the solid work will hold its own. Venturing out to Moonmist was well worth the freeway journey, and it gave me a welcomed blast of fresh curatorial vision. Hoehn and Goss are as welcoming as they are intellectually sharp, and their programming at Moonmist is definitely something you want to be involved with. The events are seldom but well worth it when you catch them.
Cowlick opened at Moonmist (5926 Moonmist Dr.) on July 13 and is open by appointment.