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Capsule Art Reviews: "Frank Zeni," "Proscenia," "Remixed & Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image Since 1970," "Thrive," "We the People..."

"Frank Zeni" New bar/gallery Khon's celebrates its grand opening on Milam with an exhibit of paintings by local artist/architect Frank Zeni. Known mostly for his Roman temple-themed folk-art house "Tempietto Zeni," Frank's paintings reflect a fascination with masters like Caravaggio, Chagall and Toulouse-Lautrec. This particular series utilizes liberal doses of bright reds, yellows and greens, depicting surreal rural farm-like panoramas populated by monstrous roosters, as well as urban representations of a neighborhood parade or perhaps a block party. Possessors of the XY chromosome should sneak a peek or, better, ask to see the painting installed in the ladies' room. The fluorescent lighting provides an interesting contrast to the main show's color palette, and it underscores the painting's cartoonish content. It's accessible and relatively affordable work, and Khon's is a relaxing, unpretentious environment. Through December 31. 2808 Milam, 713-523-7775. — TS

"Proscenia" This summer, Dust, Mark Fox's installation for the window wall of Rice University's Rice Gallery, presented a raucous tangle of drawings in which the artist had attempted to draw everything he owned. In his current show in the entry of Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery, Fox's work is a much more quiet and delicate endeavor, but he's still excising drawings from the page. Using drawing media ranging from brightly colored pencils to metallic inks, Fox has drawn irregular networks of rectangles and then cut around the slender marks. Their tiny geometric shapes are discretely taped into a wonky grid and hung from slender wires extending from the gallery walls. The drawn lines become ethereal and seem to float in the air, hovering just over the surface of the wall. It's a seemingly simple idea, but the effect is absolutely riveting. Through December 24. 4520 Blossom Street, 713-863-7097. — KK

"Remixed & Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image Since 1970" With almost 50 video works on view, this show is definitely worth the trip, even if you can only hit the highlights. Co-organized by CAMH curator Valerie Cassel Oliver and Dr. Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta, the exhibition spans generations. In Cornered, Adrian Piper's iconic 1988 video installation about race, Piper, a woman with dark hair and an olive complexion, speaks to you on a video monitor, saying "I'm black." Like the philosophy professor that she is, Piper patiently dissects the meaning of that statement in a brilliant and illuminating exercise in logic that demonstrates the inescapability of race in America. Big Gurl (2006) is a Barbie-filled stop-motion animation tour de force work by the young Houston artist Lauren Kelley. Kelley uses goofy stop-motion animation and a host of modified Barbiesque dolls to tell stories about women's lives that blend humor with poignancy. Lip, Tracy Moffat's 1999 video, features clips scavenged from film history of black women portraying maids in film. History of a People Who Were Not Heroes (1994), María Magdalena Campos-Pons's video, plays a haunting Cuban lullaby while a sheet-draped rocking chair moves back and forth. Cut, a video by Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry, shows the artists, a couple, cutting each other's hair with a straight razor. McCallum is white and Tarry is black, and the seemingly straightforward mutual act evokes power, submission, loss and sensuality. Video is a powerful medium, yet it's a medium that requires a level of commitment from the viewer. But expand your attention span, and your patience will be rewarded. Through January 4, 2009. The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose Blvd., 713-284-8250. — KK

"Thrive" Curated by Mary Ross Taylor, former executive director of Lawndale Art Center and an active fixture in the Houston nonprofit arts and feminist communities, "Thrive" is a group show featuring work by 16 female artists based in Houston and is presented in conjunction with a University of Houston conference titled "Gender, Creativity and the New Longevity." The show explores the passing of time and how women, in particular, creatively shape a future in which we live longer as humans. Standouts include Mary Jenewein's wall-mounted dioramas of scenes of Latin American poverty, degradation and rebellion (an interesting evolution from her series of Abu Ghraib portrayals); Kelli Vance's paintings of a couple's shaving routines, which are ambiguously threatening; and Charles Mary Kubricht's black-and-white photographs documenting the West Texas landscape, presented alongside text describing disturbing Border Patrol activities. Through December 20. DiverseWorks, 1117 East Fwy., 713-223-8346. — TS

"We the People..." Soody Sharifi's work is the standout of this exhibition of works that explore various aspects of the immigrant experience. Here, Sharifi, known for her digital photographs updating traditional Persian painting, is pushing her work in a less aestheticized, more in-your-face direction. She has dotted two walls with photographs of young American Muslims in various situations, straddling two worlds as they play basketball and hang out with friends. The women in her photographs wear stylish sunglasses with their hijab. The walls the photographs hang on are plastered with the kinds of one-liners you see on T-shirts or bumper stickers, but they're all from a Muslim perspective. Mining various sources, including Facebook, Sharifi dug up lines like, "Yes, I'm an American. How did you guess?" There's also "Is your dad a terrorist? Because you are the bomb" and "What do Islam and Capitalism have in common? A fundamental belief in profits." Another reads, "Is it me or is it getting a little Halal in here?" It's the kind of thing a Muslim Shecky Greene might utter. Putting a snarky spin on stereotypes, Sharifi introduces the modernity and humor often lacking in depictions of Muslims in pop culture. Through December 27. The Art League Houston, 1952 Montrose Blvd., 713-523-9530. — KK

 
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