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"Endearing the Line" Berlin-based artist Dirk Rathke has quickly built himself a reputation here in Houston. After several shows at Gallery Sonja Roesch, he's known for his curved canvases — monochrome shapes that bend, twist and seemingly ripple ever so slightly; you have to check the edge of the work just to make sure of their depth — and stripped-down drawings that go off the canvas entirely. In his third exhibition at the gallery, Rathke returns to familiar territory. As the name suggests, the show plays with line, space and dimension, resulting in playful, attention-holding pieces. The most prominent is the remarkable site-specific installation Room-drawing for Houston #2. In his first solo show at Sonja Roesch, back in 2007, Rathke memorably took over the back end of the gallery with neon orange tape. He does so again, this time placing orange tape in the shape of two squares that take over the ceiling, wall and floor. It's part sculpture, part painting, thanks to the brush stroke-like lines of the tape, and it completely throws you off. You're not sure how to react to it — do you look at it straight on, or dare to get inside the lines and challenge the 3-D quality of the work? The canvas-twisted works also play with this line between sculpture and painting. Rot Zweiteilig is the most striking of these, comprised of two solid-red canvases that are forced together, a line between them adding to the tension. In the future, it'd be nice to see the artist move in another direction instead of doing more of the same. But what he has now is still powerful, memorable work — those neon orange squares will be etched in my mind for quite some time. Through June 30. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424. — MD

"The Graphic Arts of Hans Erni" Hans Erni is one of Switzerland's best-known artists, and a contemporary of Picasso, Kandinsky and Mondrian. Over the decades, he's worked in lithography, digital technology and everything in between. At 103 years old, he still works in his studio every day, rivaling artists a quarter of his age. So I had high hopes for Erni's first major retrospective here in the United States, held at the Museum of Printing History. But I was let down. The retrospective consists of 40 posters, mainly painted illustrations, arranged for the most part in chronological order, from 1948 to 2009. In his decades-long career, Erni has done more than posters, and the museum's exhibition brochure even boasts that his work includes paintings, print and book illustrations, stage design, tapestry and postage stamps. Sure, the exhibition needs some focus given his wide span, but with row upon row of 128-by-91-centimeter posters, other types of graphic art would have been appreciated simply for some variety, as well as to accurately portray and pay tribute to the range of Erni's work. Another missing component is context. Given his Swiss pedigree, the posters are largely in French and German, and, removed from their time frame of reference, they're difficult to decipher. But you can still judge Erni's graphic artwork on its own. The work itself varies wonderfully in style and theme, from dramatic images of a skull topped with an atomic bomb plume to a decapitated tree (literally). Many are united by Erni's repeated use of geometric elements, especially circles, and sometimes even consistent fonts. In some works, the artist adopts styles similar to those of the masters, such as in a striking silkscreen from 1961 of a naked woman that's reminiscent of Picasso, and a Degas-esque print of a woman holding up a giant nut. These intriguing finds make for some standouts in this small show, which despite its flaws is necessary viewing for fans of Erni stateside. Through June 9. 1324 W. Clay St., 713-522-4652. — MD

"HJ Bott: Rhythm and Rhetoric" Houston artist HJ Bott has been exploring his so-called "displacement-of-volume system" for 40 years now, and he's celebrating with an exhibition of his newest works at Anya Tish Gallery. It says something that after 40 years, Bott hasn't gotten bored with his self-developed technique, which explores lines and geometric shapes on fiberboard that he then casts with glossy, bold color. And the op-art works themselves are far from boring — they're bright, colorful works that attract viewers like moths to a flame. And once they get you there, they're highly cerebral — through his sharp lines and shapes, Bott plays with dimension, creating 3-D shapes that almost seem to rotate in space on the canvas. It's no surprise that the boldest and the brightest of them all — Mesocarp Mischief — is the star of the show. The painting graces the cover of the latest Arts and Culture magazine, it's the poster image on the gallery's handout and it attracted gallery-goers during the opening like none of the other works. It's an intriguing visual — its thin black lines over the hot pink make it look like a Barbie barcode, while circles are uniquely dissected by lines, colors and curves. Bott says he's dabbling in concepts like yin/yang and string theory and applies layers of paint and glaze in vibrant colors up to 100 times, but his works lack emotion. It's all a bit too methodical — Bott even uses specific "warm" and "cool" colors to achieve the multi-dimensionality of his works. These works are all about dimension, but it's hard to get below the surface when it's all so manipulated. Through June 9. 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299. – MD

"Members" Britt Ragsdale works with bodies, though his photographs don't set a scene so much as capture the angles, forms, shapes and scale of the human body. There are images of outstretched hands, baby's feet, a bald head, knobby knees and, to be honest, some body parts that aren't so easily identifiable. They're only parts — photographed against a black background, they don't even look like they belong to a body at all. There's a classic quality to them, the skin as luminous as anything you'd find in a Caravaggio painting. Most of the photos were printed on a small scale — six by six inches, or 12 by 12. I left wishing Ragsdale had gone bigger. Sure, you can fit more photos in the space when they're smaller, but these photos are larger than life, and should be displayed that way. In fact, the two largest prints — Members Study 1.1 and Members Study 2.1, which feature legs and bodies stacked on top of each other — were the most captivating. They commanded your attention. Through May 31. Gallery 1724, 1724 Bissonnet, 713-582-1198. — MD

"reverse of volume RG" Yasuaki Onishi's latest installation at Rice Gallery is made out of just plastic and black hot glue, and yet it manages to take on multiple properties depending on your perspective. As you walk around the site-specific piece, it resembles a forest, the thin black glue like sparse dead trees on top of a mountainous terrain. Staring at it straight on, it looks like an otherworldly, alien creature, like an inverted jellyfish with long black tentacles. Venturing directly under the plastic, you're walking through a cave that's had all the color drained from it, save for hundreds of black splotches. Most of all, though, Onishi's new piece is unlike anything you can see or put a name to. There is a ghostly aura about the plastic as it stretches unevenly from one end of the gallery to the other, attached to the ceiling by strings of black hot glue. It's as if the plastic is propped over some misshapen form that you cannot see. These materials follow their own logic — the glue is splattered in a happenstance fashion, giving dimension to the cavernous plastic shape — which seems to be dictated by whatever is under it. As the title implies, the piece is playing with emptiness, filling the void above you and leaving the gallery's floor and walls untouched. One of the most remarkable things about this installation is how delicate it is. It seems like a slight cough would send the whole thing floating down on top of you. Even the gallery's air conditioning disturbs the structure, making it undulate ever so slightly. But, against all odds, it remains intact. It's a remarkable sight to behold at any angle. Through June 24. Rice Gallery, 6100 Main, 713-348-6069. — MD

"Shifting Paradigms in Contemporary Ceramics" In 2007, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston acquired the Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio Collection — a private collection of contemporary ceramics that amounts to a whopping 475 works spanning more than 50 years. In Shifting Paradigms in Contemporary Ceramics, the museum narrows that massive collection down to nearly 160 works. Though spread out through four distinct "rooms," the exhibition feels cluttered — there's so much to see and take in, but not a ton of room to walk about. But it flows well, so even if you miss some works, you get the gist. The collection moves logically from modern pots to functional ceramics to postmodern to decorative. There are works on the walls, naturally, as well as pieces hanging high from the ceiling and lying low on the floor. And they're more varied than you could imagine — there are works that are illuminated, abstract sculptures, conceptual, broken. Works that comment on war, homophobia, "society," dreams. There are pieces made the old-fashioned way, by hand with clay, and others made with modern, digital technology. Falling into the latter category, there's Marek Cecula's standout The Porcelain Carpet. It's a puzzling piece — it's a carpet that you can't walk on, and decorative plates that don't hang on the wall but lie on the floor. And it's massive — at 192, there are more plates than individual pieces in the entire show. They all have part of an image of a North Indian carpet digitally scanned onto them, so when you look at it as a whole, it resembles the carpet, however fragmented. This porcelain "carpet" plays with function effectively and simply, and, since debuting ten years ago, has become emblematic of contemporary ceramics. Through June 3. 5601 Main, 713-639-7300. – MD

"Space Zombie Mayan Apocalyptic Human Sacrifice Uplift Mofo Party Plan Spring Break 2012" Kallinen Contemporary is off the beaten path in the Far East End. Despite the odd location and crazy title, this show managed to draw a big crowd — between 300 and 400 people — during its opening night last month, testament to the strength of some of the impressive names involved. Paul Horn, Solomon Kane and John Paul Hartman joined forces with Randall Kallinen, a civil rights attorney by day, artist and now gallery owner by night, to put on the party. And among works by more than 20 artists on display, there's also Kelley Devine with her antler-sporting nudes, light installation artist Ariane Roesch and Pop-Art devotee Dandee Warhol. There are more than 100 pieces to take in, filling every inch of the two-story warehouse space — including an aerosol painting on the outside brick by GONZO247 painted opening night. Gian Palacios-Swiatkowski stands out among the painters — his portraits of women beautiful and arresting. Camargo Valentino's paintings are also showstoppers in a sense, including a black-and-white portrait of Emiliano Zapata Salazar. The Mexican revolutionary is done in incredible detail, while his followers behind him are out of focus — it's almost photographic. William Reid's minimal works — rectangles of color, surrounded by circles of scorched canvas — are nothing new, but still seem radical and bold. Above it all sits Eduardo Portillo's giant puppet-like Gonzo the Clown, perched on the second story in all its creepy glory. Hours by appointment, through May 28. 511 Broadway, 713-320-3785. — MD

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