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Art Capsule Reviews

A picture of our opinions on local exhibitions

 "Allison Hunter: New Animals" "New Animals" is a continuation of Allison Hunter's "Simply Stunning" series, which showed at New York's 511 Gallery last year. The Houston-based photographer's recent work concentrates largely on animals, and the images reflect a progression toward emancipating creatures from the worldly environment. Sheep and deer inhabit pinkish-gray realms that resemble threatening desert sandscapes, and yet the animals' tameness and passivity feel amplified, more so than if they were depicted in a natural setting. Some photos feature lone animals encased in blackness, like Untitled 10, in which a sole chicken, brightly illuminated by an unknown source, stalks the ground for food against almost invisible traces of its farm environment. In Untitled 7, a miniature horse proudly sports its red saddle (unencumbered by screaming children, maybe?) below a starless void. The effect is a kind of Usher Syndrome -- a condition in which the deaf develop an encroaching blindness -- of nature and logic, except in Hunter's world circumstances aren't in disorder. On the contrary, the animals seem right at home in their non-universe. Though August 17. MKG Art Management, 2825 Colquitt, 713-526-4146.

"Everyday People: 20th Century Photography from the Menil Collection" In 1956, the de Menils brought the legendary "The Family of Man" to Houston's Contemporary Arts Association [Museum]. It was a landmark show, but the Edward Steichen-curated exhibition evidenced an idealistic and hokey "It's a Small World" brand of humanism. The show inspired the de Menils as photography collectors, but their collection was also shaped by their interest in issues of social justice. The photographs of "Everyday People: 20th Century Photography from the Menil Collection," curated by Franklin Sirmans, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Menil Collection, presents a much more blunt, realistic view of the world. The photographs span socioeconomic and ethnic groups and present images of hookers, mourners, communists, pool players, Nazis, newlyweds, protesters, nuns, soldiers, prisoners and more by legendary photographers such as James Van Der Zee, Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Sirmans has clustered the photographs salon-style on the walls like family photos. But unlike the typical display of family photos, he threw in all the relatives no one talks about. Through April 29. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.

"Never Been to Houston" For their exhibition at Lawndale Art Center, curators Andrea Grover and Jon Rubin found people who had never been to Houston. Then they asked them to take photographs of what they thought Houston looked like. The images are presented as a slideshow in Lawndale's Mezzanine Gallery. The results are revealing and often hilarious, with movies, TV and the Internet playing a major role in shaping outsider impressions. An Italian, Francesco Nonino, took pictures of traffic and paired them with shots from Houston TranStar. An Iranian artist, Amirali Ghasemi, took pictures of a road through a desert and a woman with big hair, lots of makeup and a cowboy hat playing the guitar. The Australians were the most smart-ass: Peter Edmunds took a shot of a skyscraper, PhotoShopped a huge black cloud of smoke coming out of the top and slapped the Enron logo on the front of the building. Ouch. "Never Been to Houston" is a rare chance to see what the rest of the world thinks of us. Co-curator Rubin -- who's never been to Houston -- will come to town to give a talk at Lawndale on Wednesday, April 11, at 6:30 p.m. Exhibit runs through April 14. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858.

tape10 Rebecca Ward's got a way with duct tape and a gift for measuring. She's put both those skills to good use in her installation, tape10. To set the stage for her work, Ward turned Lawndale Art Center's third floor gallery into a pristine white box by covering the floor with white vinyl. The ceiling is where everything happens. Ward used duct tape in shades of blue and green to create precise patterns of stripes on the ceiling. Loops of duct tape hang down from the stripes, starting small and getting bigger until they almost touch the ground. The tape casts linear shadows on the walls and becomes a dynamic sculptural presence in the room. Ward has taken a ubiquitous and prosaic material and made it fabulous -- except it still has that duct tape smell. You'd never guess she just got her B.A. in Studio Art from the University of Texas in 2006; tape10 looks like the product of a far more seasoned artist. Through April 14. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858.

"Witnesses to a Surrealist Vision" A 1950s Hopi Kachina doll based on Mickey Mouse, a coconut seed that looks like a butt and a creepy-looking 18th- or 19th-century "Wildman" leather suit studded with leather spikes from the dark recesses of Germany or Switzerland are among the 133 objects coexisting in the intimate space of "Witnesses to a Surrealist Vision," an ongoing show at the Menil Collection. All of the objects in this exhibition were either owned by the surrealists or are similar to those that they collected, according to the exhibition text. And the 130 remaining objects are all equally weird. Tucked into a small, darkly lit room in the back of the Menil's permanent surrealist exhibition, "Witnesses" is a treasure trove of amazing, eclectic objects. It re-creates the idea of the Wunderkammer ("room of wonders"), a cabinet of curiosities -- natural and unnatural, real and fake. It's a wonderful insight into the surrealist vision, as well as a provocative juxtaposition of objects from all over the world, with an emphasis on works from Africa and Oceania. The tiny space is one of the jewels of the Menil Collection, but one you might forget about in the midst of all its temporary exhibitions. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.

 
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