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Capsule Art Reviews: "City Glow," "Ellen Orseck," "Nexus Texas," "RED HOT" and "Sawing Logs"

City Glow Self-styled Pop Art star Chiho Aoshima emerged out of the "factory" art group founded in Tokyo in the late '90s by Takashi Murakami. Her computer-generated images reference manga comics and anime cartoons, with wide-eyed characters and line drawings. Like Murakami, Aoshima believes in the contributions pop genres have made to the art world at large. Tucked away underground in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Chiho Aoshima's installation City Glow (2005) sits behind a cafe and next to the escalators. Don't feel bad for her, though: James Terrell's The Light Inside tunnel and Damien Hirst's installation End Game are good company in the basement. The cyclical piece is told through a five-screen animated video of telescoping layers that comments on deteriorating climate conditions. Plants, animals and anthropomorphic skyscrapers grow, bloom and die throughout the course of the seven-minute piece, perhaps predicting the death of civilization as the balanced world of the opening scenes mutates into a nightmare apocalypse set in a blood-red graveyard. Highly recommended for Nipponophiles or anyone bored with painting and sculpture. Through October 21. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — SC

"Ellen Orseck: Storms, Sumos and Sweets" Ellen Orseck's paintings of sumo wrestlers and cupcakes, as well as tornadoes, are nestled snugly in the warm, intimate gallery of UH Downtown. In energetic paintings culled from photographs, the small plastic sumo wrestler parades and pantomimes on a dining room table with cupcakes and sweets. He's caught devouring frosting, eyeing his next bite and placidly staring as the cake itself takes the artist's attention. Orseck's brush strokes are thicker than usual here, making for evocative cakes and pies, but the strokes aren't quite as creamy as butter cream. In another work of stop-motion animation, the soft-toy protagonist is repeatedly frozen in a block of ice and thawed out, his smiling face none the worse for wear. Orseck's tiny watercolor paintings of tornadoes, a separate body of work, repeat their subject in simple color variations that hold little of a real storm's power. The intimate veins of bleeding ink lend movement to the twisters, but their standardized composition — each threatens a solitary house — doesn't help them as a group. Through October 11. O'Kane Gallery, One Main, 713-221-8042. — SC

"Nexus Texas" This exhibition's title stresses the simple, focused connection on display: Texas inspires exceptional artists. Some of the only ostensibly Texas-inspired work (there's very little) comes from Houston's El Franco Lee II. His paintings freeze explosive, mostly infamous, moments in sports and urban culture. Rudy T. Vs. Kermit Washington captures "The Punch" that reverberated through the sports world on December 9, 1977. Technology looms large in Texas, so it's no wonder artists choose to explore it. Paul Slocum's performative objects combine antique electronic devices with pop music and digital imagery. For Combat, Slocum hacked a 1977 Atari 2600 console and the game it came packed with (Combat) to create a loopy, self-deconstructing cyberpunk symphony. Music is a major element of Justin Boyd's eerie sculpture/installation. On the floor, an old reel-to-reel tape recorder plays a droning recording of a female voice — kind of a long, wavering moan. Impressively, the tape spools have been attached to wooden pyramid frames which flank the recorder and elevate the spools; the tape itself is effectively fed into the air, creating a huge, stretched-out triangle. Amy Blakemore's striking photos convey an inexplicable sadness. Most melancholy is Dad, a photo of Blakemore's father in his hospital bed just minutes after he died. Elegantly composed, it almost comes across as a painting. And not to be missed is Roberto Bellini's video Landscape Theory, depicting birds and a sunset in a parking lot outside Austin — and a conversation with a security guard who advises Bellini to turn off his camera and leave. The discussion is amiable, but it reveals paranoia. Through October 21. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — TS

"RED HOT: Asian Art Today from the Chaney Family Collection" Another purported survey of the contemporary art of an entire continent based on the tastes and buying habits of one collection, this exhibition varies wildly in quality. Among the good is Korean artist Do-Ho Suh's massive fiberglass sculpture Karma (2003), in which two legs wearing men's black dress shoes and suit pants extend through the gallery ceiling, poised in mid-stride. Clusters of tiny figures are shown running in the shadow of the giant soles. Are they fleeing, or are they carrying a giant in Lilliputian fashion? It's a wonderfully ambiguous, but dramatic, work. Other standouts include Sheng Qi's Memories (Me) (2002), a large photograph of the photographer's flat, open, pinky-less hand holding a photo of himself as a small boy. (Sheng severed his pinky to mourn friends killed in Tiananmen Square.) On a lighter note, Chinese artist Cao Fei's Hip Hop New York (2006), captures people in Chinatown dancing to the satiric Chinese-American hip-hop group Notorious MSG. The most problematic pieces are the Chinese pop-influenced works, about which one observer quipped, "it looks like freakin' Disneyland." The show lacks any early examples of political pop, and there are some bad paintings here. Take Zhao Bo's street scenes. His Chinese Portrait #8 (2005) shows a businessman on a cell phone with McDonald's Golden Arches and Mao in the background. Look, communism and capitalism! Another shows a crowd on the street with the Chinese flag and an image of Spider-Man. These hastily painted works, with their large signatures and subject matter targeted to foreigners, look like tourist paintings, each a quick variation on the same theme. Through October 21. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Audrey Jones Beck Building, 5601 Main, 713-639-7300. — KK

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