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"Soundforge" If participatory art is made that you don't participate in, is it still successful art? That was the question I pondered recently when hesitating to pick up a mallet at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft's exhibition "Soundforge," a steel-music collaboration between metalsmith Gabriel Craig and composer Michael Remson. The cold, standing, human-size vibraphones are accompanied by rows of hand-carved wooden mallets warmly lit on a wall, as if calling out "Pick me up." Still, like any musical instrument to a newbie, even one as unintimidating as percussion, there's room for uncertainty — how do you play? What should you play? How loudly can you hit the forged steel? The only clue Craig and Remson leave is an echo-y, almost eerie percussion score on loop that acts as your guide and accompanies a jumpy, barely watchable video of the forging in action. Answering those questions and testing the mallet to the steel are all part of the experience, sure, but when some brave soul does muster the courage to pick up one, maybe even two, of the surprisingly light mallets, the sound is akin to the cacophony created by an untrained child banging on the keys of a poor piano. Given the amount of steel and mallets with which to strike it that are available, you have, in essence, multiple children at pianos. And though the materials say each steel piece is tuned to Remson's composition, that doesn't mean you can't hit a wrong note. In the end, I went along and timidly struck a few chords, though didn't stick with it. Given the relational aesthetics model of "Soundforge," it requires viewers to complete the work by striking the metal with the mallets. So if they deign not to — out of shyness, disinterest or politeness — it's not much of a success. And if they do, well, I'm pretty sure I don't want to hear it. Through January 7. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — MD

"Toni LaSelle: Climate of the Heart: Paintings from the 1950's" I'm a sucker for Toni LaSelle's 60-year-old abstract paintings. Characterized as a pioneer of Texas Modernism, LaSelle studied with the legendary Hans Hoffman. She was a woman artist during the swaggering machismo of the abstract expressionist era and apparently one of the first Texas artists to fully immerse herself in abstraction. The wonky, angular shapes of her small paintings Climate of the Heart #4 and Climate of the Heart #5 are wonderfully engaging, as are their goofy '50s colors — blacks and grays, whites and the greens of plastic plants. They're done in Magma, this funky precursor to modern water-based acrylic paint that you had to thin with turpentine. That's a paint geek thing, but it's the kind of paint that the likes of color field artist Morris Louis used. They're good paintings, but there's also something really beautiful about the way the Magma has aged and the colors have mellowed. There are a couple slightly clunky paintings in the mix, but it's a lovely little show. LaSelle has some great pattern-heavy watercolors on view as well. Through January 8. Inman Gallery, 3901 Main, 713-526-7800. — KK

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