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Capsule Reviews

A picture of our opinions on local exhibitions

 "Alfredo Jaar: The Sound of Silence" Artist Alfredo Jaar's installation The Sound of Silence at DiverseWorks tells the story of photojournalist Kevin Carter. Sitting on benches in a darkened room, you watch as Jaar silently tells Carter's story through a projection with white typewriter-style text on a black background. In 1993, Carter went to Sudan. After landing in Ayod, he immediately began photographing famine victims, wandering among the masses of people who were starving to death. In exhaustion, he walked into the brush and heard a faint sound. It was a tiny girl trying to make her way to a feeding station. As he was about to photograph her, a vulture landed behind her. He sat and waited for 20 minutes for the vulture to spread its wings. It never did, and Carter took the photograph anyway. Then he shooed the bird away, sat under a tree and lit a cigarette as he watched the small girl struggle on. Under the tree he "talked to God" and cried. He sold the stark, tragic picture to The New York Times. It was circulated around the world through other news agencies. Thousands of people wrote to him, wanting to know what had happened to the little girl. Why hadn't he helped her? The photograph won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994, and in July of that year, Carter killed himself by hooking a garden hose up to the tailpipe of his truck. You can imagine how he had watched thousands of people starve to death, far too many to help, and how that small, frail girl had seemed like just another one joining the masses. But you also think how easy it would have been to pick up that one tiny body and carry it to safety. And that's what Carter realized and could not live with. We won't give away all of Jaar's installation, but suffice to say, it is an incredibly powerful meditation on violence and humanity, and the best exhibition in FotoFest. Through April 29. 1117 East Freeway, 713-223-8346.

"Indelible Images: Trafficking Between Life and Death" This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston under the direction of Gilbert Vicario, assistant curator of Latin American Art. It's a well-chosen and provocative show featuring politically charged, often poignant works by Latin American and Latino artists. Los Angeles artist Daniel Martinez's TO MAKE A BLIND MAN MURDER FOR THE THINGS HE'S SEEN (Happiness Is Over-Rated) (2002) features an animatronic man crouched in a corner, swiping at his wrists with razor blades and laughing maniacally. Dressed as Martinez's double in the navy-blue work clothes we associate with maintenance workers in the United States, the wrist-slashing janitor becomes a metaphor for desperation spurred by socioeconomic inequality. True to its name, this tight exhibition is filled with ruminations on life and death. Mexican artist Teresa Margolles's art draws attention to the hundreds of women along the El Paso/Ciudad Juárez border who have been sexually assaulted, murdered and dumped in the desert. Her DVD Anapra y Cristo Negro (2005) presents nighttime images of the desolate landscape surrounding Ciudad Juárez. Cuban-born artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres is represented with his 1991 sculpture Untitled (For a Man in Uniform), made at the time of the first Gulf War. Gonzalez-Torres, who lost a lover to AIDS and eventually died of it himself, was attuned to death and loss, not to mention the political climate for gay men. The sculpture consists of a mound of lollipops piled in the corner of the room. Viewers are encouraged to take away a piece, slowly disintegrating the "body" represented by the candy. Colombian artist Oscar Muñoz remembers the dead in Pixels (2003), portraits of assassinated men made of sugar cubes painted with coffee -- materials associated with his native country. This is an extremely well curated show built around intriguing ideas and interesting artists. Through April 30. 5601 Main, 713-639-7300.

"Mariah Anne Johnson: How to Fold a Fitted Sheet" "How to Fold a Fitted Sheet" sounds like the topic of a circa-1953 home-ec lecture, but it's actually the title of Mariah Anne Johnson's exhibition at Lawndale Art Center. Johnson takes the former contents of countless linen closets and uses them to create sculpture. She neatly folds and layers sheets on shelves, interweaving them with the occasional crocheted doily. Their colors and patterns create multihued strata, and the stacks of folded edges read like paintings. Johnson rolls the sheets into roselike bundles and stacks them into a bouquet of folds and fans them out in a corner. The softly faded qualities of the fabric give a warmth and hominess to the pieces, and they make you wonder about the individual histories of their components. While "art with old sheets" doesn't exactly sound like a promising concept, Johnson really makes it work. Through April 29. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858.

"Mel Chin: Do Not Ask Me" In his work, Mel Chin addresses political and social issues as well as science, philosophy and the environment. It's an agenda that sounds pedantic and dry, but Chin's a smart artist and his conceptual work leans toward the poetic. Take Extraction of Plenty from What Remains 1823 (1989), a sculpture in which two gargantuan white columns -- replicas of White House pillars -- crush a massive but empty cornucopia between them. It's a stark juxtaposition of power and poverty; the roughly woven "horn of plenty" is made of "Honduran mahogany, banana fibers, coffee, mud and blood," the stuff of Central America during the '80s -- the blood in particular. The first column ends in the jagged outline of President James Monroe's signature; the second, that of Ronald Reagan. The Monroe Doctrine started out supposedly as a stance against the colonizing impulses of Europe, but, culminating with Reagan, it became synonymous with the United States' brutal policies and covert activities in Central America -- Salvadoran and Honduran death squads, guns pouring into Guatemala, you name it... Who the hell would've thought you could make interesting art about the Monroe Doctrine? And, thankfully for the viewer, Chin isn't interested in making purposefully obscure references you're supposed to decode. His titles come with brief statements that set out his ideas. He tells you about the signature outlines at the top of those columns in Extraction, a detail no one would figure out. And, by the way, Extraction is but one of the powerful works on view in this show. Chin has occasional brushes with heavy-handedness, but overall he manages to stay on message and artistically on target. His work makes you think -- and feel. Through April 30 at The Station, 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900.

 
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