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Capsule Art Reviews: "New Formations: Czech Avant-Garde Art and Modern Glass from the Roy and Mary Cullen Collection," "New Paintings: Geoff Hippenstiel," "Perspectives 177: McArthur Binion," "Peter Massing: Time After Time," "Sherrie Levine: Selected

"New Formations: Czech Avant-Garde Art and Modern Glass from the Roy and Mary Cullen Collection" Avant-garde Czech erotica, anyone? "New Formations," an assemblage of early 20th-century Czech work collected by Mary and Roy Cullen, presents some pretty wonderful things: everything from glassware to periodicals to the aforementioned erotica. And like most shows of private collections, you should visit it for the objects and glimpses of the period it contains rather than to receive a comprehensive overview. Jindrich Štyrský's 1933 text and photomontage, Emile Comes to Me in a Dream, was only distributed through the mail. One of his collages, on view in the show, illustrates why. A photo of a half-naked woman clutching a feathered fan is paired with a photo of a skeleton with its boot still on. Štyrský stuck an image of an erect penis over its pelvis. It captures the decadence bookended by the carnage of WWI and WWII. Tamer but equally impressive offerings in the show include amazing art glass from the '20s and '30s, in which Bohemian glassblowers turned their considerable skills to dramatic modern forms. Through February 5. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 5601 Main, 713-639-7300. — KK

"New Paintings: Geoff Hippenstiel" It seems trite to say an artist's work is exciting — how often have you heard that before? But that's the exact reaction I had when viewing Geoff Hippenstiel's new, large paintings at Devin Borden Gallery. In his first solo show here since his well-received MFA show at the University of Houston in spring 2010, the abstract oil paintings are almost too big for the gallery to contain. They take up its main exhibition space, its storeroom, even its office, making for some nice, colorful scenery at two desks. Every single one of these works is untitled — even the show is simply called "New Paintings" — but they're not without their own backstories. In short, the Houston artist starts off with one central image — Monet's lilies, Cézanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire, even, randomly, a Goya-bust award statue — and paints. He paints until the original inspiration is barely recognizable, though traces of it remain beneath the surface. As a result, the paintings feel familiar, and yet completely new. Whether it's the starting image or the artist's obsessive painting over it, the same material is always used — oil paint — but in an almost meta moment, Hippenstiel's viscous patches of metallic paint start to take over the work. The paint itself — its color and its thickness — becomes the subject, squeezing out the lilies or covering the pale gold of the Goya head in a bright green. In another painting, the original image is indiscernible, covered almost entirely in a thick blanket of shiny silver, erasing whatever came first. Experiencing the effacing quality of paint in this context is simple, but still exciting and completely alluring. The paint wins. Through March 13. Devin Borden Gallery, 3917 Main, 713-529-2700. — MD

"Perspectives 177: McArthur Binion" McArthur Binion's show at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston features a repetition of geometric shapes — triangles, squares and circles — varying only by color. To make them, he presses wax crayon onto wood and aluminum panels in a very laborious process that results in what the Chicago artist likes to call "Rural Modernism," both a nod to the pieces' heavy texture and his Mississippi upbringing. The result of all this repetition, however, is that once you see one piece, you've seen them all. Whether it's a red triangle, green triangle or purple triangle, there's not much to propel you forward. To be fair, each piece is subtly different, though that's largely indiscernible to the naked eye. That's because barely visible under each layer of crayon are autobiographical elements — pictures of Binion, his birth house, and parents, as well as lynched men and even racist and stereotypical imagery taken from fruit wrappings. The artist cleverly calls this the "under-consciousness" of the work, though like anything that's under the surface, you have to be told it's there, or otherwise miss it completely. One piece that did stand out in the artist's museum debut was Stellucca I: (Rural Geometry) – a parallelogram, the only one of its kind in the show, whose title is a combination of Binion's children's names, Stella and Lucca. With just a few simple lines, Binion manages to create a great tension that really grabs you. Through April 1. 5216 Montrose Blvd., 713-284-8250. — MD

"Peter Massing: Time After Time" The big talkers at Peter Massing's new Nau-haus Art show are his involved carvings — wood blocks with images of tricksters and wizards carved into them — and their resulting red, blue and green ink prints. The poppy prints are fun to look at and compare the block to its flipped paper counterpart. But in the printmaker's second solo show at the Heights gallery in four years, his collages and prints are really the works to behold. One piece in particular is a big collage that's primarily two blocks of blue scattered with engravings and random images — mainly a couple of old doilies and cartoonish representations of two little boys playing. There's a sense of nostalgia, like artifacts from a half-remembered childhood. I was left with an overwhelming sense of sadness, but also sweetness. Another strong piece is the screen print "Marriage/Some Kind of Institution." The main image is an orange sapling, with eyes glowering at you from its leaves. Along the bottom are the words "marriage/some kind of institution...you can't even marry a tree." If you think this might be some comment on the controversial piece The Art Guys Marry a Plant, it'll help to know that Massing is the brother of Jack Massing, who is one half of The Art Guys. Still, what that comment means, exactly, is a bit unclear to me. The image of the tree is flanked by floating heads of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy and bordered by alternating blocks of crude stencils of people, portraits of women reminiscent of works by classical and impressionist painters, and photo-like flowers — it's as if the piece is putting the Art Guys' performance in art history, though I'm not sure if the institution of marriage, or art, is what fails. Ambiguity aside, I was enthralled. Through January 28. 223 E. 11th St., 281-615-4148. — MD

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