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Capsule Reviews

A picture of our opinions on local exhibitions

 "Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective of Drawings" Born in Turkish Armenia in 1904, Vosdanik Adoian would grow up to be Arshile Gorky, one of America's most important and influential artists, but he would never forget the land of his birth and the village of his difficult childhood. This intimate retrospective at the Menil Collection follows Gorky's progress from his apprenticeship to the masters through his cubist exercises to his breakthrough in the 1940s. Aided by a return to drawing from nature and abetted by the surrealists, Gorky experienced a creative explosion as he filtered the world before him through his imagination and memory -- he drew on his agrarian childhood for the sinuous shape at the heart of the lyrical The Plow and the Song. The vitality and energy of his drawings make their abrupt cessation (Gorky committed suicide at age 44) all the more poignant. As installed in the Menil, the exhibit has been judiciously edited down from the ungainly sprawl and visual overload of the Whitney's version. Don't miss the drawings of his mother, especially the portrait on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago, or the Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia series. Through May 9. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.

"Exposure: Portrait of a Corporate Crime" Remember Bhopal? Raghu Rai does. The Indian photographer arrived on the scene of the Union Carbide chemical disaster the morning after the gas leak. A photograph he took that day, Burial of an Unknown Child, shocked the world. In it, the beautiful, fragile face of a dead child is surrounded by dirt and gravel, her eyes glassy and murky from gas exposure. The 1984 Bhopal tragedy didn't end with the thousands who died at the time from their exposure to methyl isocyanate. It's estimated that to date up to 20,000 people have died from exposure-related illnesses, and 120,000 have been left chronically ill. And Rai has continued to document the environmental and human toll, taking photographs that tell the stories of lives devastated by the disaster. The plant was shut down by Union Carbide but continues to leak toxins into the soil and water of Bhopal. It's an appropriate exhibition for our city -- Union Carbide is now owned by Dow Chemical and has corporate headquarters right here in Houston, Texas. Through April 29 at the Station, 1502 West Alabama, 713-529-6900.

"Oscar Muñoz: Ambulatorio" Sicardi Gallery's FotoFest-related exhibition is the event's best show, water-themed or otherwise. In the video Re/Trato, Oscar Muñoz paints a self-portrait on concrete with a brush dipped in water. The water makes a dark mark that quickly dries and disappears in the sun. It's a wonderfully futile project. Muñoz gets the left side of his face and one eye drawn in and then moves to draw the right as the left disappears before our very eyes. In an absurdly Sisyphean task, he moves back to the left again, trying to capture an image of himself in a completely ephemeral medium. On and on he travails for 28 minutes of real-time video. In the main gallery, Muñoz presents a huge floor-based photograph, consisting of a grid of 36 aerial views of Cali, Colombia, where the artist lives. The photos are covered by shattered safety glass. You walk over the city like a giant, covering dozens of blocks with a single step, and you can stand in a river with the ball of your foot. The webs of fractured glass completely cover the entire city. It evokes Cali's notorious drug trafficking-related violence. Through April 24. 2246 Richmond, 713-529-1313.

"PG-13: Male Adolescent Identity in the Age of Video Culture" Barbara Pollack filmed her son playing America's Army, an online shoot-'em-up game created by the U.S. Army, for her video-installation of the same name. You have to watch the projection for only a few minutes to grasp its message: Teenage boys are desensitized to violence. As Max pops off round after round, his cold-blooded poise would make any drill instructor proud. But the piece has more conceptual depth: When we look at Max looking at the game while it seems like he's looking at us -- and we then look at the game he's been looking at -- the whole relationship becomes oddly triangulated. For another work, Stronger, Pollack recorded her son and two of his friends while they watched Britney Spears's "Stronger" video. Part of Stronger's success lies in its use of the pop-up style so prevalent in recent music videos. The boys actually look like they belong on-screen with Britney. Sex and violence get tangled up in Janet Biggs's Chamblee, a video of three pairs of teenage boys locking limbs at wrestling practice, an ironically heterosexual activity. Sex, violence and asshole gym coaches -- the "PG-13" exhibition has it all. And it's all displayed very well at DiverseWorks. Images and noises abound in the gallery space, quite often competing with and overlapping each other, just like the sensory noise of our postindustrial society -- and just like the urges of the adolescents who grow up in it. Through May 1. 1117 East Freeway, 713-223-8346.

"17/15: A Selection of Art Made in Houston, 1950-1965" Work from the early days of Houston's contemporary art scene is on view at Brazos Projects, which adjoins Brazos Bookstore. Curated by Bill Lassiter, the show features pieces by 17 artists working between 1950 and 1965, when economic growth yielded support for the burgeoning artistic community. The exhibition has some pleasant surprises, like Jack Boynton's quirky little wood-and-nail sculptures and Ruth Laird's gorgeously modern ceramic vessels in lovely shades of pale blue, cream and white (the vase necks are reminiscent of Henry Moore figures). John Biggers's solidly graceful sculpture depicts the body of a mother enveloping her child. The show also features an elegant linear work by Dorothy Hood, as well as a vividly hued painting of an oil refinery by Frank Freed, an insurance salesman who began making his wonderfully idiosyncratic paintings as a hobby. Exhibition announcements and correspondence from the period help convey the zeitgeist. Through May 16. 2425 Bissonnet, 713-523-0701.

 
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