December 20, 2019


Celebrate the holiday season with inspiring art made for fractious times

One could say if artists feel uneasy, it’s the work that benefits. Just witness an exhibit of baroque-beautiful ceramics that helped their maker retain a sense of control. Or take a peek at a self-deprecating take on social issues that is nonetheless the most giftable show in town. Be they thought-provoking or just plain fun, here are the shows you should drag the family to this holiday season.—Kendall Morgan 


Steve Wrubel


“Rodeo” by Steve Wrubel at Christopher Martin Gallery. Now through December 23.

It seems like everyone’s on a #yeehawagenda lately. Dallas-based photographer Steve Wrubel is no exception to the rule, as he’s taken a subject we typically take for granted in Texas (i.e., rodeo riders) and given them a fresh twist.

Wrubel says a short film promoting the brand Yeti inspired him to check out the pro-rodeo circuit, and he spent a good chunk of 2019 ringside watching cowboys do their thing.

“I don’t think I’ve been to a rodeo in 25 years, and since then, I’ve been to 25 rodeos this year. I was mesmerized by the power, the dirt, the cowboys—everything rodeo is.”


“Rocker One” (left) and “Marfa” (right)


To give his oversized images more optic impact, he eliminated everything other than the rider and his horse. That way, the dirt, the reins—even the horses’ manes—stand out on a tonal background void of fences or spectators.

Although his current show at the newly expanded Christopher Martin Gallery has a tightly curated selection of shots, Wrubel says he has 100 plus photos of the best of the west he’d like to show later down the line.

“There’s a lot of wild to America—the battle between the cowboys and Indians and the taming of the west,” he explains. “I think people really like latching on to it and associating with it. Everybody likes to dress up at a cowboy at some point and really see what that feels like.”


Anna Membrino’s “Fade” (left) and “Goodnight” (right)


“Groundswell” by Anna Membrino at Erin Cluley Gallery. Now through January 4.

If it life feels just a little more abstract lately, well, you’re not the only one. Perhaps that’s why art with soothing candy colors and soft, airy textures seems so right, right now.

Just witness the latest collection of canvases from painter Anna Membrino. Known for turning her “little still lives” of plants, rocks, and clay forms into uber-soothing tableaus, her work is a breath of fresh air in a weary world. Membrino never met a shade of millennial pink she didn’t like, and the same thing goes for the dreamy blues, yellow and aquas she employs in her surrealist landscapes. Influenced by light as much as she is by color, the artist says the idea of cyclic rhythms and how they impact our lives helped inspire the work in “Groundswell.”

“Because I had a baby just before I started, I was dealing with circadian rhythms. I thought about how linked we were to light in general, but also to specific angles of the sun. If it’s at a certain angle, it will tell us to be a little bit sleepy or that we should be waking up.

“There’s no buildings or figures in these paintings, so we have no idea if they’re prehistoric or futuristic. But what I do hope is that they’re linked to a type of annual time, a time that people could say, ‘That feels like a winter morning.’”


Cary Leibowitz at 12.26


“The Queen Esther Rodeo” by Cary Leibowitz and “Food Group: On the Table by Ry Rocklen at 12.26 Gallery. Now through January 4.

We really love 12.26 Gallery a lot—and with good reason. Sisters Hannah and Hilary Fagadau have already proven themselves masters of the envelope-pushing exhibit right out of the gate.

Cary Leibowitz (the artist occasionally known as Candy Ass) offers a lively solution to our tumultuous political climate in “The Queen Esther Rodeo.” Titled after the biblical post-feminist icon, “Queen Esther” is also a homage to youthful activists like Greta Thunberg and Emma González.

“Since the last election, I’ve not done anything except watch the news, where I used to watch the real estate channel or cooking shows or sitcoms,” says Liebowitz of his inspiration. “Queen Esther came about from some of the things I’ve focused on the past, like Jewish assimilation along with broader issues like immigration. I was a little bit making light (of what’s going on), but at the same time, the work is very symbolic of assimilation and different minorities.”

Featuring everything from a “Wishing Well” pool filled with cardboard public figures that comfort Leibowitz (including Wills n’ Kate, Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Dorothy of Oz), to silhouettes of our founding fathers, the show is a lively way to discuss what’s going on without bumming anyone out.

Because there are so many multiples featured in the show—most notably quirky mud flaps emblazoned with phrases like “Sad, Really Sad, Really Really Sad” and “Vote for a Teenager”— “Queen Esther” also has a built-in giftability. These works are the perfect present to get your point across to a stubborn relative (with just the right amount of humor).

Need a belt stitched with “Respect for the United States Constitution?” Of course you do! And why not stuff a stocking with a signature “Queen Esther” belt buckle?

Also notable is L.A. sculptor Ry Rocklen’s quirky sculptures, on view in the gallery’s project room. By using friends and family in oversized food costumes as his raw material, the resulting sized-down works are possibly the only art that references the work of Claes Oldenburg and a Fruit of the Loom commercial in equal measure.


Anthony Sonnenberg’s “Queer Grandeur” (left), “In Times Like These” (center), and “Tragedy Vase” (right)


“In Times Like These” by Anthony Sonnenberg at Conduit Gallery. Now through January 4.

Texan sculptor Anthony Sonnenberg’s lavish works start life as ceramic tchotchkes he sources in junk shops. Glazed and overlaid with lavish drippings of porcelain and golden paint, they manage to recall beauty, death, and the still life—sometimes all in a single piece.

Currently a professor of art at the University of Arkansas, Sonnenberg draws his imagery from such disparate sources as tombstones, theater stages, and chandeliers. Yet his glossy source materials hide deeper themes the artist is exploring “In Times Like These” at Conduit.

“It really started around 2016 with all the bummer feelings in the world, and feeling out of control and depressed,” he explains. “I was also thinking about choices and the way we use facades to gain feelings of control to help us get through reality. The quote is either you get busy dying, or you get busy living, and I’m looking at what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it.”

By using beauty to negate his despair, his “fake it ‘til you make it” philosophy resonates: Sonnenberg has been chosen as only one of just 60 contemporary artists included in 2020’s “State of the Art II” exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.


Lydia Ricci’s “Double Cassette”


While you’re at Conduit, be sure to check out Lydia Ricci’s teensy tributes to everyday objects. On display in the project room, her mini fold-out sofas, jam boxes, exercise bikes, and toilets crafted of scraps are based on visceral memories that changed her life. The sized-down scale (small enough to fit in your hand) are both poignant and adorable.


Ryan Hewett at Goss-Michael Foundation


“Nothing New Under the Sun” by Ryan Hewett at Goss-Michael Foundation. Now through January 11.

In the hands of painter Ryan Hewett, a portrait can be many things: textural, figurative and abstract, all at the same time. In the current show at Goss-Michael, his hyper-colored mixes of tone and shape portray everything from curvaceous female forms to flora and fauna found in his native South Africa.

Represented by millennial art dealers Jonny Burt and Joe Kennedy of Unit London, Hewett’s work was first brought to co-founder Kenny Goss’s attention when a piece was included in the MTV RE:DEFINE auction earlier this year. The resulting works in “Nothing New Under the Sun” have a cubist cool all their own.

“I think in contemporary art, there can sometimes be pressure to fall definitely down on either side of the figurative abstract fence,” says the self-taught artist, who clearly likes balancing between both. “Sometimes, it’s nice to be in between the two extremes (but) I try to do this in a genuine way.”