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  • Rainey Knudson

Booby Jars (485 words)

Jim Love (1927-2005) was a Houston sculptor who worked as a preparator for many years for the collectors John and Dominique de Menil. Working mostly with steel, Love breathed life and wit into the macho industrial material, transforming it with a signature, humane drollness. In 1980 Dominique de Menil said of Love's works, “They confront us with life and the absurdity of death. They allude to the underlying mystery of all things, the absolute needs of man and beast for companionship, for tenderness, for home.”

One of Love's best-known works, Jack, can be found these days outside Bistro Menil, the museum's restaurant (and in a smaller form by the workout center at Rice University). It helps—it adds—if you know that Love used petroleum drilling pipe for these playful pieces. They are the spectacular toys of a chancey game. Love added another layer to that idea by imprinting his last name, with all its associations, on the end cap of each pipe.

Jim Love, Jack, 1971. Steel and paint, 126 x 126 x 50 in. (320 x 320 x 127 cm). The Menil Collection, Anonymous gift. © The Estate of Jim Love.

Currently, there's a little sculpture of Love's tucked in a corner of the ground floor gallery of the new Kinder Building at the MFAH. The gallery's installation is primarily a joyful homage to the kinetic sculptures of Jean Tinguely, a group of which were given to the MFAH by the de Menils in the 1960s, long before they envisioned having their own eponymous museum.

Here is Love's ribald piece, Figure without Brassiere, from 1963. (Early on, Love worked with found bits of industry; later, he fabricated his works from scratch.)

Jim Love, Figure Without Brassiere, 1963, steel, cast iron, and lead. 14 1/8 × 6 × 6". Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

I love the defiance of gravity (no brassiere necessary!) and the cartoonish suggestion of spinning. And I wonder if Love was inspired by similar objects of Pre-Colombian art.

Moché (north coast of Peru), Vessel with Lucuma Fruits, c. 100-800 CE. Private collection.

Across the street and upstairs in the oldest part of the MFAH, I enjoyed visiting this delightful pre-Colombian vessel from a private collection for several years. Sadly, it is no longer on view, but before it went back to storage (or to its owner), I photographed the wall text, which said:

This vessel features lucuma, sweet nutritious fruits favored by the Moché. The multiple fruits represent abundant harvests. The Moché lived between the Andes Mountains and the northern coast of Peru in an arid land with unpredictable extremes of weather. Years of droughts alternated with years of violent and destructive rainstorms and floods. The Moché searched and prayed for a careful balance. Their art was often concerned with agricultural fertility and survival.

Fertility and survival! So much for life. As for the "absurdity of death" which Dominique de Menil associated with Jim Love's work, we have this vessel. Similar pattern but ringed not with boobs or fruit but with skulls, this wonderful Mayan funeral urn lives at the Menil Collection:


If you don't have the budget for pre-Columbian artifacts or works by 20th-century Houston-based sculptors, you can get a minimalist version of this from H&M Home for just $31.99. Comes in three colors!


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