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Capsule Art Reviews: "A Room of Her Own", "Carlos Cruz-Diez: Crosswalk", Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III), "Reduced Visibility"

"A Room of Her Own" Group shows of women artists are exceptionally patronizing when the only connection between the works presented is that they were all made by someone with a vagina. That's the organizing principle behind "A Room of Her Own" at McClain Gallery. The title is pretty awful as well, but thankfully the work isn't. This may be a catchall show, but there are some things definitely worth seeing. Alice Neel is always wonderful, and David, her 1968 portrait of a small, wiry boy in a big green armchair, is no exception. Judy Pfaff's Turkey Hill (2009) showcases the artist's characteristically exuberant use of diverse materials — it's like a Pfaff installation within a shadow box. But it was Tara Donovan's sculpture that blew me away. Some of you may remember Donovan's 2004 installation at Rice Gallery, "Haze," in which she created an ethereal, cloudlike wall from an unlikely material — clear soda straws. Here she's created an even more amazing optical effect with buttons. Donovan painstakingly stacked and glued clear buttons into irregular, mountain-like peaks and valleys. It's a striking sculpture, but what happens optically is phenomenal. There is a soft, fuzzy, flickering blur over the entire thing — even close up. I have no idea what causes it, maybe all the misaligned buttonholes, but you have to see it. Through January 2. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — KK

"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

Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III) It's big, it's bright, it's art-historically important, and it's at the MFAH. Frank Stella's epic, 50-foot painting Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III) (1970) is billed as the last in his "Protractor" series. Stella broke onto the art scene in the late 1950s with the stark lines of his "Black Paintings." He went on to introduce color into those lines, and the shaped canvases that he used define the curves of the "Protractor" series. In Damascus Gate, Stella, influenced by the geometric patterns of Islamic art, flirts with the decorative. Today Stella does more than flirt with the decorative — his work has deteriorated into what amounts to corporate interior decoration. Damascus Gate could be billed as the last painting Stella made before his art jumped the shark. Through March 31. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Cullinan Hall, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK

"Reduced Visibility" Political art is famously difficult to pull off. Too much politics and you can end up with a one-dimensional propaganda poster; too little, and the whole point is lost. "Reduced Visibility" at Glassell, curated by Core Program Critical Studies Resident Kurt Mueller, features largely abstract artworks that attempt to walk that fine line. Work by the late Houston artist Mark Lombardi is the best thing in the show. Masterfully integrating politics and art, Lombardi channeled his passion for research, conspiracy theories/facts and a deep sense of moral outrage into elegant drawings that diagram the scandals and conspiracies of his day. (Lombardi's 2000 suicide has itself been the subject of conspiracy theorists.) In fine pencil lines, Lombardi neatly wrote names inside circular shapes linked by dotted lines, arrows and the like. There is no explicit narrative to overwhelm the visual. Instead, you follow the directions of Lombardi's marks (sometimes annotated with dollar amounts) as you read the names of banks, businessmen, political figures, bureaucrats and strongmen, pondering their less than six degrees of separation. Lombardi was good, so good that, according to NPR, just a few weeks after September 11, an FBI agent called the Whitney and asked to see a drawing by Lombardi illustrating "the links between global finance and international terrorism." One can only imagine the work he would have made had he been around for Bush II. Through November 15. Glassell School of Art, 5101 Montrose Blvd, 713-639-7500. — KK

 
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