Now, we know your mother always told you not to stare, but you can ignore her advice completely at the "Diane Arbus Revelations" exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The subjects captured by the famous New York City photographer, especially at her artistic zenith in the early '60s, often stare right back at you. It's a penetrating, fixed stare that can only be described as unsettling. Arbus, who committed suicide with a lethal combination of barbiturates and wrist-slitting in 1971, battled depression to the end. But her stark, spontaneous documentary-style portraits -- which record moments of glee and melancholy on the streets of New York -- are passionately alive.
What sets this exhibition apart from prior shows of her work is not just the sheer volume -- more than 200 photographs -- but the inclusion of newly uncovered photos and artifacts from her working life, such as cameras, books and contact sheets.
Like Fellini, Arbus was fascinated by people who did not fit the norm, often photographing dwarfs, giants, twins and triplets -- or folks with really bad teeth. "Most people go through life dreading they'll have a traumatic experience," Arbus once said. "Freaks were born with their trauma. They've already passed their test in life. They're aristocrats."
So go ahead, stare all you want. The exhibition is on view through August 29. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 12:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7300 or visit www.mfah.org. $3.50 to $7 (free on Thursdays). -- Greg Barr
Hipsters have a way of asking questions loaded with condemnation, like "Oh, you mean you've never seen that?" The next time you run into some of those cooler-than-thou fools, drop a little knowledge of your own by asking them why they haven't seen the latest season of The Territory. Not only is this weekly series of artsy short films pretty much the coolest thing on television, it's also just obscure enough to be overlooked by wearers of trucker hats everywhere. Starting this week, PBS will reair the spring season, so you've got another chance to see homegrown favorites by Jeffrey Travis and James W. Johnson. But you already knew that, didn't you? 10 p.m. Tuesdays. Houston PBS, Channel 8, 713-748-8888, www.houstonpbs.org. -- Keith Plocek
The Living End
"Any day above ground is a good one" -- so goes the motto for the National Museum of Funeral History, located in our very own burg. Now, we know what you're thinking: "Out of all the national museums we could've got, why'd we have to get the one with a bunch of caskets?" True. But this place has got a lot more to offer than fancy houses of the dead, including macabre displays about electric embalming, wacky hearses and even JFK's eternal flame. (Yep, the ol' eternal flame at Arlington National Cemetery was replaced in 1998 with a newer unit. One can only assume the new model will be more "eternal.") Knock on heaven's door from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; and noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 415 Barren Springs. For information, call 281-876-3063 or visit www.nmfh.org. $3 to $6. -- Keith Plocek
Erica Kennedy debuts into hip-hop society
With her debut novel, Bling, Erica Kennedy has attracted rave reviews from such literary éminences grises as Jackie Collins and Russell Simmons, who praise her work, respectively, as "full of juice" and "engaging." In the novel, Kennedy spins a 21st-century hip-hop version of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady. Here, Mimi Jean, a small-town Ohio girl with a mean set of pipes, assumes the role of Eliza Doolittle; the shrewd tycoon Lamont Jackson, CEO of Triple Large Entertainment, takes over for Dr. Henry Higgins; and P. Diddy's NYC sits in for aristocratic London. Gossip columns report that Mimi's character is also based on the famously difficult Naomi Campbell, who, predictably, has said she won't read the book. Kennedy signs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 7. Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center and Bookstore, 5309 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. For information, call 713-645-1071 or visit www.shrinebookstore.com. Free. -- Tyler Smith
For Spacious Skies
Benjamin Franklin was a nudist. Now that we've got your attention, it's time to announce Houston's official Fourth of July celebration. This year the city has hired Disney to handle the fireworks, leaving us with the sappy title "Wish Upon a Lone Star" for the pyrotechnic extravaganza. And it doesn't stop there: Naomi and Wynonna Judd are slated to perform in their only concert of the year. So grab the fam and get your keisters over to Eleanor Tinsley Park for this patriotic party. Or, if you think the Judds are a dud, just park somewhere near Buffalo Bayou and see the fireworks for free. 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, July 4. 500 Allen Parkway. For information, call 713-220-2000 or visit www.houstonspecialevents.org. $6. -- Brandy Robichau