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Capsule Art Reviews: "Amy Blakemore: Photographs 1988-2008," "Carlos Runcie-Tanaka: Fragmento," "Perspectives 166: Torsten Slama," "Toil and Trouble"

"Amy Blakemore: Photographs 1988-2008" The photographs Amy Blakemore takes with a crappy plastic camera can make you cry. Dad (1999) is an image from this exhibition, a 20-year survey of the artist's work at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The entire time I was in the gallery, people kept stopping and lingering in front of the photo Blakemore took of her father, Robert Blakemore, just after he died. Images of death lure people in, but usually it's the shocking photojournalistic kind. This simple, quiet picture dunks your head in a bucket of loss. Every photo captures a particular moment in time, but Blakemore's capture concentrated doses of human experience. If you know her work at all, you probably know that she shoots her photographs exclusively with a Diana camera. The Diana is a 1960s plastic camera made in Hong Kong by the "Great Wall Plastic Factory." The Diana was so cheap, it was given away as a carnival prize. But the sheer crappiness of the camera is part of the appeal. Its inherent defects — the photos it produces are vignetted and blurry, with low-contrast, oddly colored images — yield haunting images in Blakemore's hands. Amy Blakemore should be a lot better known than she is. Her work merits it. But she's a solid, thoughtful artist, not a careerist, as low-key and unassuming as her work and her choice of camera equipment. This survey, sensitively curated by the MFAH's Alison de Lima Greene, is well deserved. Through September 13. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK

"Carlos Runcie-Tanaka: Fragmento" Runcie-Tanaka, a native of Peru with Japanese and British heritage, makes ceramic sculpture that integrates his many cultural influences — which are indeed indicative of Peru. According to the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, the works function as symbols of spiritual growth and interethnic unity. It's unfortunate that the museum's installation tries too hard to emphasize those aspects. The dark, solemn lighting is fine — one work, Tiempo Detenido, actually requires it (and it's used to great effect). But the cheesy Peruvian flute music that permeates the gallery detracts from the universal nature of the sculptures as objects, and beautiful ones. Huayco/Kawa/Rio is a series of spherical forms incorporating shards of broken pottery that references Japanese ceramics. Manto continues the fragment theme; it's a low glass case displaying a layer of pottery shards that have been haphazardly pieced back together interspersed with forms that look as if they were purposely slumped in the kiln. It's an interesting piece to consider, but it's loaded by its environment to suggest a spiritual mystery that somehow cheapens its fascination in chaos. You may find yourself, as I did, wandering around to find the source of those damn flutes. Through October 18. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. — 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

"Toil and Trouble" This curious exhibit spotlights seven artists whose work incorporates themes of chaos, the supernatural and a kind of ritualistic handling of technique. Virtually all the artists involved score on some level; it's strong work all around. Standouts include Robyn O'Neil, who delivers a set of recent drawings depicting tiny bodies and heads either interacting with, or floating against, hallucinatory images of weather or the elements, nicely composed by utilizing vast spaces of white paper. Pamela Chapman paints sections of riverbanks, elegantly rendered pools of swirling water, vegetation and debris, like trash, a pink comb and confetti, transforming otherwise banal subjects into strange abstractions. Emilio Perez's acrylic and latex paintings embody both the streetwise edge of graffiti and comic-book graphics. He meticulously cuts away layers of paint to reveal inherent patterns and abstract logistics that represent rapidly fluctuating chaos. And Natasha Bowdoin culls inspiration from literature for her incredibly intricate paper works that seem to somehow translate text into complicated 3-D textures and layers, like she's channeling a book's psychic shape and wavelength. Mind-boggling stuff. Through August 16. CTRL Gallery, 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. — TS

 
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