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Capsule Art Reviews: "Body in Fragments", "Cy Twombly: Treatise on the Veil", Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III), "Recent Accessions in Design"

"Body in Fragments" The Menil is always great at creating little mini exhibits from its vast collection, grouping together and juxtaposing modern and contemporary works with primitive art. "Body in Fragments" is no exception. The title says it all — every piece on display contains an element of body fragmentation, what curatorial assistant Mary Lambrakos explains can mean many things in art, from metaphors for identity to the limitations of the body to the rise of industry and technology. Alongside African, Egyptian and Roman sculpture, there are works by René Magritte, Roy Lichtenstein and Yves Klein that employ fragmentation in many forms, such as Magritte's The Eternally Obvious, a vertical "performance" of five paintings depicting a female nude in pieces, and James Rosenquist's Promenade of Merce Cunningham, an image-within-an-image of black-and-white shoes against a colorful, ambiguous body part. There are playful pieces, such as Robert Gober's Untitled, a plaster sink basin occupied by creepy, hairy, beeswax "legs" wearing sandals with pull-tab buckles, and more menacing ones like Nancy Grossman's Blind Masked Head, which looks just like it sounds, a head form with a black leather bondage mask and metal spike sticking out the top. The inclusion of Michelangelo Pistoletto's Division and Multiplication of the Mirror is a nice touch. The double mirrors force us to see ourselves in fragments, investing viewers deeper into the works on display. Through February 28. The Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.— TS

"Cy Twombly: Treatise on the Veil" This rarely exhibited painting by Cy Twombly is accompanied by several works from the artist's private collection that "document," in a sense, the piece's creation. Treatise on the Veil comes from Twombly's "gray-ground" period (1966-1971) and very much resembles a huge chalkboard with a mysterious musical composition drawn across its lower half. The work was inspired by Pierre Henry's musique concrète composition The Veil of Orpheus, and it represents the moment in the myth when Orpheus, in an attempt to rescue his dead wife Eurydice from the underworld, breaks the rules of the gods and looks back at his wife, thus losing her forever — one of the most heartbreaking scenes in literature. That musical moment in Henry's composition is rendered as the sound of fabric tearing. Twombly, in effect, attempts to represent that sound in his own invented musical script. The piece is powerful in its size (nine feet by 32 feet) and simplicity. It's truly operatic. But the additional works on display don't necessarily support or detract from the major work. Twombly's always best when he goes big. We don't need to see the rehearsals. Just give us the performance. Through February 14. The Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS

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

"Recent Accessions in Design" If I ever win the lottery, I'm hiring Cindi Strauss, the MFAH's curator of all that is great design, as my personal shopper. This show has some incredible stuff, and the chairs are particularly wonderful. There's a classic 1934 design, a Gerrit Rietveld Zig Zag Chair, made from just four simple panels of wood. Also on view is Shiro Kuramata's 1976 glass armchair, whose six glass panels provide an elegant and deceptively simple counterpart to the worn wood of Rietveld's Zig Zag. Meanwhile, Joris Laarman's 2008 burnished black-resin Bone Rocker is supported by an amazingly smooth skeleton-like structure. All of a piece, it grows together so beautifully and organically that the museum's "do not touch" policy is hard to obey. Through February 21. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK

 
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