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Capsule Art Reviews: "Maurizio Cattelan", "The Paper Runway", "Steve Wolfe on Paper"

"Maurizio Cattelan" It's tempting to think that artist Maurizio Cattelan is putting one over on The Menil Collection. The Italian sculptor's works often tease art-world conventions and mock institutional authority. What's happened, though, in the delightful exhibition "Maurizio Cattelan," is a perfect harmony of two voices, the artist's and the institution's. Always smart in its approach to curation, the Menil has allowed Cattelan to make selections from the collection to display in juxtaposition with his own works, as well as install pieces within the museum's permanent exhibits. The result is a building-wide scavenger hunt that yields some pretty thrilling moments. And ironically, the Menil plays the trickster by figuring out an ingenious way to make patrons who only show up for the rotating exhibits check out the permanent ones again. There may not be a more perfect place for this experiment — Cattelan is a self-taught artist and was influenced greatly by surrealism. If one begins exploring the Menil at the west side of the building, Cattelan literally spells it out for us by choosing to display Joseph Kosuth's 1967 painting Titled. In white letters on a black canvas is the definition of the word "meaning." The majority of the Cattelan works on display are untitled, so introducing the definition of "meaning" seems to imply "abandon all hope of." The exhibition's major work is Cattelan's All, nine human figures lying horizontally on the floor that appear to be covered with white sheets — at least, that's what your brain tells you when you walk into the room. Closer inspection reveals a material of significantly greater substance. Another Cattelan work resides near a selection from Warhol's Electric Chair series. (You have to look for it.) And inside the surrealism galleries, find the hanging, upside-down hand with its fingers cut off (except for the middle one). Cattelan's summation of Dada, perhaps? Through August 15. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS

"The Paper Runway" Making clothes out of paper is the definition of counterintuitive, but it was big for a brief period of the mid-1960s, considered avant-garde and futuristically practical. This show at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft features an abundance of paper fashion by contemporary creators as well as a few of those period pieces. Organized by the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the exhibition has a lengthy, international list of curators. But that may be the cause of its problems — it's in dire need of editing. Let's just say that some of them have significantly better taste than others. One of the standouts is a great A-line paper dress, produced by the Mars Manufacturing company of Asheville, North Carolina, that might have been white but now has the hue of old newspapers. It has a keyhole neck with black string tie and a black-and-gray pattern of bold baroque swirls and florals. The manufacturer ingeniously had the "fabric" printed with patterns by a gift-wrap manufacturer. The piece has a wonderful label that instructs you not to wash it or dry-clean it. There's another great 1960s dress by Hallmark with a cheery pink-and-green floral print and the de rigueur A-line style. Unfortunately, this show is as badly hung as it is overcrowded, and right smack in the middle of these two period dresses is a contemporary contribution that seems like it's supposed to be wearable as well. A long, boxy shift that would look like hell on and would doubtless rip when you walked, it's made out of "marbleized" coffee filters applied like fish scales. Placed between the two crisp A-lines, the dress looks like an ugly stepsister. The show's absolute standout is Nancy VanDevender's Ruffled Tattoo Jacket, a long, sweeping, belted wrap coat of what looks to be vinyl-coated paper. It's digitally printed with a funky pattern of drawn and photographed ruffles. The sleeves and edges are cut to follow the ruffles' outlines. It's hip, witty, modern, well-designed and dramatic. Through September 4. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — KK

"Steve Wolfe on Paper" "Steve Wolfe on Paper" is an interesting counterpoint to the "MANUAL on Books" exhibit at Moody Gallery. While the Moody show is essentially photographs of books, this Menil exhibit showcases Wolfe's trompe-l'oeil objects that "trick the eye," and which are largely depictions of books. Wolfe's best-known works look like worn-out paperbacks of titles like Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea and Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, made from wood, modeling paste, oil paint and screen print. They are exact replicas, down to their distressed spines, dog-eared corners and torn covers. Also on display are Wolfe's studies on paper for the objects, incredibly detailed drawings and screen prints of book covers, poster art and photographs, sometimes on their own and other times as collage — tributes to cultural heroes like J.D. Salinger, Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett and, of course, Andy Warhol, to whom Wolfe is perhaps most indebted. Don't miss Wolfe's reproductions of vinyl records, made from oil, enamel and graphite. It's the mass-made made handmade. Through July 25. The Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS

 
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