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Capsule Art Reviews: "Carlos Cruz-Diez: Crosswalk," "Literally Figurative," "No Zoning: Artists Engage Houston," "Perspectives 166: Torsten Slama"

"Carlos Cruz-Diez: Crosswalk" You only have to drive past the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to see some of the hippest public art in Houston. The 86-year-old Carlos Cruz-Diez, a pioneer of optically kinetic art, has created an amazing street installation for the MFAH's crosswalks along Bissonnet/Binz Street. Cruz-Diez's vibrant pattern of horizontal and diagonal lines overlays Houston's potholed and eroded asphalt streets with dynamic art. It makes you wonder why we don't do this to all of our crosswalks. The artist has created street installations before, but this is his first in the United States. The Venezuelan artist's work was one of the standouts in the MFAH's landmark survey of Latin American avant-garde art, "Inverted Utopias," and is included in the current MFAH exhibition "North Looks South," so you might want to park the car and head inside. Plus, they've got great air conditioning. Through December 31. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK

"Literally Figurative" The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft consistently displays the fuzzy line between craft and fine art, and its current show is no exception. Unfortunately, the show's curator, Gwynne Rukenbrod, doesn't have anything fresh or interesting to say about the distinction. Instead, we get a shallow lesson on the importance of the human figure in art from the ancients to modern day. Hold hands, kids, we're going to the museum; don't touch anything! She ham-fistedly includes a slideshow of art-history-101 specimens, like the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's David, etc. — all that's missing is some Mozart in the background. Sans the pandering, though, what the show really conveys is the nonfunctional, strictly aesthetic end of contemporary craft, and there's some impressive work. Blanka Sperkova's wire-net figures of people and animals are beautifully executed and transcend kitsch and decor. Beth Beede's distorted human forms made from molded felt display skilled expertise matched with dry humor. And Juliellen Byrne's ceramic sculptures stand out for their deceptively innocent auras — anger, vulnerability and aggression lurk underneath their grotesquely funny and playful outward appearances. Through July 3. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — TS

"No Zoning: Artists Engage Houston" This exhibition features the work of about 20 local artists and teams of artists who have created works outside of museums and galleries, often site-specific or performance-based pieces. Many of the participants began engaging their environments in the '80s, and the show includes installation elements from past works to just-recent ones. It's an adequately interesting exhibit of local talent in a historical context, but it lacks almost any relevance to what makes these works powerful in their own skins. For instance, Cleveland Turner's Flower Man House in the Third Ward is represented by a mock-up on the CAMH's front lawn. Besides the potential to point visitors toward the real thing, a crazy, colorful mish-mash of junk, toys and whatever else Turner finds or visitors bring him, the surrogate can't begin to embody the soul Turner's actual residence contains — especially because it's not a museum. It's a house. Similarly, artist Jim Pirtle's stand-in for notsuoH, the downtown art project/hangout he started in the '90s, misses the mark. The assemblage of display cases, paintings, old records, books and other ephemera won't re-create an actual late-night visit to Pirtle's domain at Clark's on Main. While the installation might bring back incredible memories for some, its twisted logic won't translate to the uninitiated. In conjunction with "No Zoning," Jack Massing and Michael Galbreth got married to a live oak sapling the morning of Saturday, June 13, at the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden. I was out of town and unable to attend the wedding. After viewing the video, I can't say whether it was a brilliant performance. So much is lost on not having actually been there. And with The Art Guys, that's kind of the point. Through October 4. The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose. 713-284-8250. — TS

"Perspectives 166: Torsten Slama" Austrian artist Torsten Slama's drawing style has its origins in the obsessive pencil sketches done by geeky adolescent boys. (You remember, the guys who designed elaborate rocket cars or painstakingly illustrated all their D&D characters.) I don't know what his high school sketchbooks looked like, but the 42-year-old Slama's work now depicts stark and ambiguous scenes. Bleak domestic and industrial structures (often with phallic tanks and towers) appear in barren landscapes — a baboon stands sentinel-like in front of one factory building. A strangely buff, bearded Sigmund Freud look-alike appears in multiple works, clothed and unclothed. The presence of "Freud" is initially amusing and then disturbing. Appearing alongside young men and boys, Freud seems more pederast than analyst. Slama's is an unsettling and painstakingly surreal world. Through August 2. The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — KK

 
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