HOUSTON AUDIENCES WHO were entranced by Waco-born Robert Wilson’s direction of Puccini’s Turnadot for the Houston Grand Opera shouldn’t sleep on A Bird and a Fox, an elegant mini-retrospective of Wilson the visual artist, now on view at Josh Pazda Hiram Butler through June 25. (At the time of this writing, the gallery plans to extend the show’s run.)
The gallery itself, a hidden gem on Blossom Street in Rice Military, offers a welcome respite from the summer heat, as it is surrounded by landscaped foliage, trees with plenty of shade and a couple of fantastical sculptures by Houston artist Joseph Havel.
Upon entry, visitors are greeted by “Wouter (Cordon Bleu Finch),” the first of four stately vertical video portraits of animals by Wilson. The pieces were originally created in collaboration with the French luxury design house Hermès.
Like most of Wilson’s theater, the action in each video is slow as molasses: In “Wouter,” for example, a tiny blue finch perches nervously on the extended finger of a woman’s arm, but never takes flight. Three more video portraits — ones of a falcon named Guinevere, a snow owl named Kool, and a red fox named Quincy — await in a connecting gallery, each intermittently blinking or cocking its head, as little fluffy clouds, none with the threat of rain, slowly drift across each high-definition canvas.
Wilson has said, “Animals have always fascinated me; they have a way of listening interiorly.” As if to echo that sentiment, the sound of Glenn Gould’s meditative performance of “Aria” from his 1981 recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations plays throughout the gallery. The performance is a prime example of Gould’s unique tempo and phrasing, and may inspire the harried, sweaty viewer to slow down and listen “interiorly” as well.
The lone interloper in this menagerie is Wilson’s “Golden Ladder (Jason’s Ladder),” a thin steel ladder, more sculptural than practical, suspended at a diagonal before the gallery’s window as the light from outdoors, which is intense this time of year in Houston, enhances the illusion of its weightlessness.
A still of 'Quincy the Red Fox'
A still of 'Kool the Snow Owl'
A still of 'Guinevere the Falcon'
In a small gallery to the right of the entranceway where “Wouter” is installed, find a collection of dark and dramatic charcoal and graphite drawings, originally created by Wilson as a sort of storyboard for his 21st-century staging of Richard Wagner’s opera Götterdämmerung. Whereas most stage directors start with a script, Wilson has always used drawings to communicate his vision, and these works on paper provide some insight into that process.
With A Bird and a Fox, Wilson avoids the amalgamation of high art and luxury branding that many find cringe-inducing. Instead, he has created a space for contemplation, a temple of images where our societal perception of space and time gives way to something closer to the transcendent.
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