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Capsule Art Reviews: "John Alexander: New Paintings and Drawings," "Katy Heinlein," "Paul Fleming: Dither Complex," "Sculpture"

"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

"Paul Fleming: Dither Complex" Paul Fleming's work contrasts chalky white gypsum with lushly colored translucent resin. Fleming finds interesting shapes out in the world — often in the form of plastic packing containers — to use as molds for his three-dimensional objects. He then makes multiple casts and hangs them on the wall in tight patterns or clusters. In works like Field (2008), spheres in various shades of blue resin spread across a wall like a constellation. Another piece, Gerber (2008), is an assemblage of gypsum rectangles topped with juicy pools of resin that looks like a giant keyboard, or a panel of indicator lights from a spaceship. But the artworks with fewer components in simple lines or small grids are less successful. They come across as too sterile; critical mass is key to the success of Fleming's work. And while most of the forms Fleming employs are fairly interesting in themselves, they aren't really hanging together as a show. The variety of found forms feels too disjunctive, and Fleming's point of view never really seems to manifest itself. He needs to exert tighter control over his work, either by editing his finds or making his own forms. Through May 31. Barbara Davis Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — KK

"Sculpture" Just about all the greats are present and accounted for in Texas Gallery's current sculpture show. Joel Shapiro, best known for his blocky yet dynamic bronze sculptures, presents a surprisingly fresh and witty work. Laminated blocks of walnut and chunks of pine are assembled into a familiar cantilevered form, but the pine is painted lime-green. The bright color radiates against the warm tones of the walnut, reinvigorating the work of a sculpture stalwart. Lynda Benglis's lovely little gold-leafed bronze sculpture has gloopy, abstract forms that reference sea life but also have a visceral edge, made elegant by the gold leaf. Lucas Samaras's wonderful, covetable chair is thickly encrusted with beads and fake jewels in the artist's trademark style. The recently deceased Robert Rauschenberg has a wonky 1981 sculpture that incorporates, among other things, a beautifully flattened trash can lid and an orange-and-white crossing gate arm. This collection of grubby, disparate objects is assembled with Rauschenberg's characteristic finesse; somehow there's a poetic logic between the parts. Thankfully, Jessica Stockholder's wall sculpture hangs in another room. Stockholder also creates sculptures from disparate objects, but her work never seems to gel — it achieves neither internal logic nor poetry, nor does it come across as purposely disjunctive. Through May 31. 2012 Peden St., 713-524-1593. — KK

 
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