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Capsule Art Reviews: "Craft in America — Expanding Traditions," "Dario Robleto: Oh, Those Mirrors With Memory (Actions 1996-1997)," "John Alexander: New Paintings and Drawings," "Katy Heinlein," "Miwa Yanagi — Deutsche Bank Collection,"

"Craft in America — Expanding Traditions" With a lush catalog introduced by Jimmy Carter, an extensive Web site and an accompanying three-part PBS series, "Craft in America — Expanding Traditions" has "blockbuster" written all over it. Organized by Craft in America, Inc., the exhibition seeks to explore the "many cultures and movements that have contributed to the development and refinement of American craft during the last two centuries." It's a pretty sweeping agenda that may be better addressed in the video series than the exhibition, which, in spite of some compelling objects, feels kinda piecemeal. But that said, it's definitely worth a trip to check out everything from a shaker-influenced George Nakashima bench, to a stunning Native American beaded vest, to quirky face jugs. Through May 4. Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — KK

"Dario Robleto: Oh, Those Mirrors With Memory (Actions 1996-1997)" San Antonio-based Robleto is known primarily for his intricate sculptures, which take the forms of relics and convey narratives of war, but Inman Gallery is presenting a series of early text-based works that challenge the definition of art space. The main room contains one actual object — there's a fixture in the center displaying a small iron pyrite spool threaded with what is described as "Patsy Cline's 'I Fall to Pieces' 45-rpm vinyl record slowly sliced along outer rim until reaching center." On the walls are 14 little groupings of vinyl text, each describing a type of performance art "action" that Robleto conceived a little over a decade ago. An example is "Be Mad, Be Rash, Smoke and Explode, Resist or Move On," in which Robleto claims he drove around in his car blaring the Sex Pistols' "Never Mind the Bollocks" on an animals-only frequency in an attempt to incite revolution among the local beasts. Much of the words bear a poetic kindness that verges on the silly. It's obvious Robleto didn't actually perform these, like the one in which he postpones the end of the world by simply whiting out every reference to it, but the show inflicts a warm charm you might not expect from its stark appearance. Through May 24. 3901 Main, 713-526-7803. — TS

"John Alexander: New Paintings and Drawings" Running concurrently with the John Alexander retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, this showing of new works at McClain Gallery is a testament to Alexander's popularity and the collectability of his work. These pieces represent an interesting transition for Texas native Alexander, whose work recently has seemed like the output of two distinct identities: Alexander the Doomsday Prophet and Alexander the Naturalist. Here, we see the personalities merging. Shrimphead masks one of Alexander's nameless, suited politicos with a remarkably rendered shrimp face. Similarly, in The Brown Suit, a man sprouts a pig nose. Paintings like Issues and Heroes Come and Heroes Go continue Alexander's recent obsession with Bosch — skeletons and grotesque creatures pose for portraits and cavort chaotically below foreboding gray clouds. Fish, though, are an important motif in these paintings, perhaps another religious reference (crosses also figure prominently). But the doom-and-gloom contrasts nicely with a piece like Lost America, a stunning landscape of blue spruce pines against a gorgeous sky of lemon-cream clouds dusted with pink. These works have the ability to appeal to a wide variety of collectors and personalities, and judging by the number of red dots, this baby's selling. Through May 31. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — TS

"Katy Heinlein" Katy Heinlein's floor-and-wall-based sculptures tread a somewhat interesting line between room dressing and art. Mostly wire-and-wood forms draped in stretchy, bright-colored synthetic fabric, the pieces instantly beg the question, "What am I looking at?" Since the draped forms don't really resemble anything or bear a recognizable shape, the next question you might ask yourself is, "What does it look like?" Ultimately, though, tents and maybe mountains are as far as you'd get with that one. As abstract art, the works feel more like underdeveloped conceits rather than finished pieces. As conceptual interior design, it lacks direction. Heinlein is probably onto something here, but the concept needs more trickery and a better-developed, fleshier sense of mystery to really provoke a question like, "How did she do that?" Through May 24. CTRL Gallery, 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. — TS

"Miwa YanagiDeutsche Bank Collection" Miwa Yanagi's stunning photographs depict women in edgy ways. One series of images, Elevator Girls, takes on a Japanese department store icon. Costuming look-alike models as "elevator girls" in matching suits, hats and gloves, Yanagi groups them in sleek but coldly desolate mall environments. She digitally tweaks the photographs to up the surreal element, printing them in large scale and lush color. For her My Grandmothers series, Yanagi had young women imagine their lives 50 years in the future and then used makeup, costuming and sets to realize their individual visions. The resulting personas range from a septuagenarian amusement park magnate in a pink bear costume to an elderly dominatrix. The artist turns to black-and-white photography for Fairy Tale, her most disturbing series, in which two young girls, one wearing the mask of an old hag, enact the darker scenes from dark fairy tales. Yanagi's visions are highly individual and unsettling. Through May 4. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK

 
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