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Capsule Art Reviews: "A Crack in Everything," "John Sonsini: New Paintings," "New Paintings: Geoff Hippenstiel," "Reconstruction," "Sherrie Levine: Selected Works, " "Since I've Been Away"

 "A Crack in Everything" The highly touted Seattle dance troupe zoe | juniper completely transforms DiverseWorks Art Space into its own dark, weird, womb-like dreamland. The artists create an entirely unfamiliar, unnerving place through innovative video, projection and sound techniques. It's the kind of installation that makes you say "what the hell?" — but in a good way. As with many other avant-garde multimedia productions, it's hard to describe exactly what happens in "A Crack in Everything," which explores such big concepts as memory and time. But for starters, you're greeted by two wall-size photographs depicting an orderly line of naked, pale people in a forest, their heads covered by fur and their chests painted silver. Walking through a dark hallway as if you're one of the naked blind, you're flanked by two screens that depict a half-naked woman — choreographer Zoe Scofield — wearing only white underwear with silver paint down her chest and stomach. She's dancing in jabbing yet still graceful moves, her form multiplied and overlapped hypnotically. You then reach a slightly elevated white platform that has two large screens propped next to each other — this is the real meat of the installation. There's enough room to walk between them or on either side, or you can sit on risers against opposite walls and watch. On both screens, an hour-long video loop features projections of life-size dancers wearing futuristic black tunics. Their images multiply, overlap, disappear and reappear. (In several live upcoming performances, dancers will play with these, bending what's real and what's not even further, though the installation does stand alone with or without this element.) There's more strange beauty to behold in this installation, but some pieces simply defy concise synopsis, sparking deep, emotional reactions that are unique to each viewer — go see it for yourself. Through February 25, with live dance performances at 1 p.m. February 4, 11, 18 and 25. 1117 East Fwy., 713-223-8346. — MD

"John Sonsini: New Paintings" Anyone acquainted with John Sonsini's work knows the drill. The Angeleno would find subjects for his portraits by picking up day laborers at street corners and Home Depot parking lots, paying them their normal hourly wages to sit for him. They picked their clothes and poses, and Sonsini painted them mostly straight on. Given the rare opportunity for this country's Mexican immigrants to represent themselves as they, for the most part, see fit, the concept has the makings of a saccharine Hollywood script. But these are good, painterly paintings. The 11 works on view at Inman Gallery demand that you spend time with them, examining each quick, thick brush stroke, noting the acute attention to detail in every puff of chest hair or thin mustache — a remarkable task, given the abstract quality of the work — and returning the gaze of each of the male subjects. The subjects sport jeans, khakis, security uniforms and, predominantly in this show, fútbol attire, soccer balls held close to their sides. One subject chose to go topless, leaning against a table, a perfect illustration of the raw honesty that these portraits convey. The unique expressions on each of the subjects' faces are also remarkable. The eyes — seemingly the same black pupils on white — are all uniquely expressive. Their postures, too, are carefully composed, arms fiercely crossed, or hands casually in pockets. All the men are painted against more free-form blocks of pastels. In some spots, these backgrounds aren't complete, revealing the white of the canvas. This unfinished quality gives the pieces a hurried feel, an appropriate sense of time and labor spent. I do have one serious gripe with Sonsini's admirable work, though — where are the ladies? Through February 25. 3901 Main, 713-526-7800. — MD

"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

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