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Capsule Art Reviews: "Body in Fragments", "Dana Frankfort: Pictures", "Robert Pruitt: The Forever People", "Ron Hoover — A Retrospective: 1972-2006", "Wishing Well for Houston"

"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

"Dana Frankfort: Pictures" Deftly skirting the edge of obnoxiousness, Dana Frankfort's paintings at Inman Gallery are brashly beautiful. Day-Glo orange has to be one of the toughest colors to use, unless you're painting a traffic cone or creating an homage to '60s psychedelia. But Frankfort skillfully and sparingly employs a range of luridly fluorescent hues in gorgeously brushy paintings. Loosely printed capital letters spelling out simple words like "LIFE," "NUTS" and "PEOPLE" become points of departure for Frankfort's paintings. The letters and words are overlaid and obscured with frantically brushed areas of color. The text keeps things off-kilter, imparting an edginess to indulgently painterly wallows in color. Through March 6. 3901 Main, 713-526-7800. — KK

"Robert Pruitt: The Forever People" This exhibition features African-American subjects on brown paper, the kind used to make paper bags. While it works well formally, the material choice also operates as an ironic allusion to the "brown paper bag test" historically employed to discriminate against dark-skinned African Americans. In this collection of works, Pruitt introduces color, using vibrant pastels to create detailed renderings of his subjects' clothing. The drawings are beautifully executed, and Pruitt deftly uses wardrobe to poke at viewers' preconceptions. Two figures stand in choir robes with Star Trek insignia; another poses in a folding chair with a Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon" T-shirt. In popular culture, geeky Trekkies and Pink Floyd fans are presented as exclusively white. Why? By the simple use of a rock band T-shirt or the logo from the USS Enterprise, Pruitt masterfully illuminates a wealth of cultural preconceptions and assumptions. Through February 13. Hooks-Epstein Galleries, 2631 Colquitt St., 713-522-0718. — KK

"Ron Hoover — A Retrospective: 1972-2006" The Art Car Museum is to be commended for this exhibit, which traces the career of one of Texas's most uncompromising artists. Ron Hoover died in 2008, leaving a body of work that ranged from abstract to pop, and exuded a dark, almost obsessive distrust of authority and the status quo. Many of Hoover's works utilized a pointillist technique of vertical dashes, so the paintings' subjects become more fully visible when viewed from a distance. There's often a limited color spectrum, creating a hazy, mysterious aura that perfectly complements Hoover's often political-themed narratives. Plant Manager (1990) is a good example of this. The gray-toned painting depicts a man wearing a hardhat with smokestacks in the background. It's apocalyptic in its smoky, ashy, acid-rain rendering of industrial excess, but the main subject wears a self-satisfied grin that emphasizes Hoover's contempt for big industry and government. At times, this exhibit can feel a bit overwrought in its politics, but that was Ron Hoover. It's skillful, passionate stuff that suits its environment. Through March 5, 140 Heights, 713-861-5526. — TS

"Wishing Well for Houston" This collaborative project by Heath Hayner, Aram Nagle and Brian Piana is an interactive sculpture that depicts the disparities in income within the city of Houston. The sprawling white structure takes over almost the entire main room at the Art League, where visitors are encouraged to toss coins into it. The piece, which is in the shape of Harris County, is broken up into zones of different heights depending on the area's average median per-capita income. Not surprisingly, River Oaks and Memorial rise like skyscrapers over the low, flat areas of north and southeast Houston and the slightly taller middle-class zones. For an aural effect, each section contains metal chimes that ring when a coin makes contact — low tones for poor; high tones for rich. It's a fun and interesting way to learn about our city's uneven distribution of wealth. Cha-ching! Through February 26. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — TS

 
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