Art: Wednesday, October 3, 2002

3 Billion Art Gallery opens with a luminous group exhibition.


It’s kind of a big deal that the curators of one of Fort Worth’s newest galleries, 3 Billion, have landed a work by a pretty sought-after non-Texan. Does anyone outside of the gallery establishment care about this? Probably not. Californian Alicia McCarthy, the artist we’re talking about, has made her reputation as (yawn!) a manipulator and assembler of found objects. I know: The thought of another artist who responds to the ugly American urge for quick fixes by — what else? — making quick-fix art, instead of actually putting some elbow grease into a painting or something, doesn’t sit well with me, either. And who the hell wants to look at neatly arranged stuff you can see every day not so neatly arranged on the street? Yeah, Duchamp’s urinal was cool — 900 years ago.

Thankfully, McCarthy’s contribution to 3 Billion’s debut group exhibit, First Strike, comes in the form of a single two-dimensional piece that, no matter how academic it is, betrays some painterly qualities. Better still, it probably won’t distract you from the great paintings hanging all over the rest of the gallery.

A little about 3 Billion. It’s a labor of love by the husband-and-wife team of Quincy and Halie Holloway and business associate K8 Hardy, and at least until these fine folks can score an intern to help with the daily nuisance of being open for business, visiting the gallery will be primarily by appointment only. The important question: Do these wheelers and dealers know shit about art? Well, by virtue of what’s covering 3 Billion’s walls, they sure do.

Have paintings like Tuesdee Halbert’s been done before? Absolutely. Are Halbert’s magnificent paintings “original”? I can only say that, after taking in her four pieces on view here, I can detect a unique hand at work. In each piece, a single color dominates, but this color is hardly background. It’s where all the action is happening. In “Untitled #4,” it’s a slanting black shadow descending from the top of the canvas to frame three flesh-colored tobacco pipes situated in a row along the bottom of the piece. In “Untitled #1,” it’s the green bottom half of a deranged landscape devouring itself. And in “Untitled #2,” perhaps Halbert’s most inspired and inspiring work, it’s the thick light-blue impasto, swirling in a column through the center of the canvas. A circle of peach to the left could be a new sun.

None of these pieces could be mistaken for beautiful wallpaper or precious decoration. Halbert is not a lyrical painter. She covers her canvases so thickly that they hang heavily on the wall. “Untitled #2,” a medium-sized painting, looks like it weighs two tons, that light blue is so dense. The complete lack of deliberation in these pieces and the slow pace at which they unfold make me believe Halbert has done something novel here: She’s discovered a new way of talking about the same old stuff.

For the visual arts, a little humor goes a looonnnng way. Duane King delivers just enough to shield himself from possibly being perceived as yet another angry young man. “Manwich” looks like something a deeply troubled first-grader might have concocted for a Halloween art project. It’s basically a few squiggly lines in familiar shapes on a deep-blue background. The piece offers a couple of insights: One, good ol’ Duane ain’t too fond of the Bible (which he’s rendered as a rectangle with the words “BUY BULL” written inside it); And, two, he harbors some sort of perverse fascination with the human body. (A male torso covered in scars and stitches hangs above his rant about the Good Book and what looks like an ad for two flabby penises labeled “USA GRADE A CHOICE CUT.”) This could be gruesome, cumbersome shtick in the hands of a less-user-friendly artist. In King’s hands, though, it’s cute. There’s a slightly shaky, impetuous quality to King’s lines, as if he had drawn them with his off hand. It’s impossible to find one insincere or gratuitous brushstroke here.

King’s other pieces on view aren’t as literal or monochromatic as “Manwich” but they’re equally wry. “Duckies, Hang-ups, and X-Mas” appears to be a form of still-life painting in which the mere suggestion of a piece of fruit is enough to “satisfy” a viewer. An artist draws a red circle with a small, slightly curving line coming out of the top and, voila! — a cherry. In “Calf Fin #2,” he ruminates on circular shapes in an unsteady hand to achieve something like fury. There are rows of “cherries” stretching across rows of other circular objects stretching across rows of other circular objects, every row comprising similarly colored objects, so you have a row of “cherries” atop a longer row of “blueberries” atop two big green “apples,” and everything is flying through time. The superficial qualities of the shapes are the focal points. There is no depth to these paintings, only lightness and light — and, yeah, a whole lot of white space.

While Halbert and King keep the dialogue going between artist and viewer, Dwight Putnam and Alex Nuñez, the remaining two artists on view, bring everything to a screeching halt. Putnam refashions car axles into narrow vertical “sculptures,” while Nuñez, in his single offering, makes a cartoon out of, I guess, the Shroud of Turin. File these artists under “McCarthyites.”

So is First Strike a good debut? Very. And while it’s not for a kibitzer like me (or anybody else for that matter) to say whether or not Fort Worth needs another gallery, I have no reservations in saying that 3 Billion is a welcome addition. Its highly anti-art location, behind the rock venue The Wreck Room, lends the space some hipster cachet. You gotta really want to be there to get there — and, if you’ve any interest in handsome artwork, you should.

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