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Capsule Art Reviews: "Drawings & Air Conditioning," "Interstitial Spaces: Julia Barello & Beverly Penn," "Kyle Farley: Countenance," "Layover," "Perry House: Elegance/Violence," "Six Apart," "Sky, Trees and Earth"

 "Drawings & Air Conditioning" With its current show, Front Gallery clearly wants to lure you out into the summer heat and into its Montrose bungalow space. There's a free-form, experimental feel throughout many of the selections on view in the show, especially prevalent in the five pieces by Michael Blair, an artist who has said he is inspired by images made by "non-artists" such as children, for their "earnest expression." It's an unfortunate allusion, as his pen drawings are exactly the type of art that elicits the response "My kid can do that." It's all unconscious lines and scribbles that ultimately don't amount to much to look at. Biff Bolen has a similar unbridled, creative-unconscious quality in his abstract watercolor and oil drawings, but these give you more to work with, from the contrast of materials to the vibrant colors. Erin Hunt's watercolors are even better — her gray depictions of a socket, an urn and more unrecognizable forms are strange and intriguing. The four selections from Clarence Chun's Postcard Series provide more shape and color to appreciate, though the works are on such a small scale you'd benefit from a magnifying glass. The thin drawings look like they're details taken from a larger piece — they go on beyond the white of the paper — offering just a hint of his minutely detailed craft. Megan Harrison's drawings in charcoal, A Catalogue of Shapes, depict the most clearly defined objects — bricks — but they curiously don't add up to anything. The neatly stacked piles; falling, tumbling bricks; and bricks bent upwards against some unseen force are all exercises in order and chaos. She's practicing, and letting us look in on the process. Through September 8. 1412 Bonnie Brae St., 713-298-4750. — MD

"Interstitial Spaces: Julia Barello & Beverly Penn" The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft's inspired current show, "Interstitial Spaces," brings together Julia Barello and Beverly Penn in their first collaborative installation. This is such a natural pairing that it makes for a cohesive, rich, full show, even with only nine pieces on view. The two artists make skillful, sculptural wall works. Barello's materials of choice are X-ray and MRI films, which she cuts and dyes to look like delicate flora — they seem to sprout from the wall, they're so textured and alive. Penn, meanwhile, takes real plants, then freezes and casts them in bronze to capture every curl or twist. The resulting pieces have such a lightness to them, it's surprising and impressive to find out that they're bronze. Each of the artists' works have a sense of wild about them that's still nonetheless contained — Barello's flowers and trees are neat and trim, while Penn's threads are sprawling like unruly weeds yet still contained, whether in perfect circles or straight, exact lines. Their sensibilities combine wonderfully in a new collaborative wall installation made just for the center that stretches the length of the main wall. It's massive — you can't take it all in at once, but have to walk along, taking it in as you move through the space. It's called Submerged, and the film and bronze do seem to move together fluidly, like water or, similarly, a wind current. What really comes through here and in the other exhibition works is the ways the pieces interact with the spaces they don't occupy. Around each twist of a bronze or film flower, there's emptiness in the form of the white wall. As the name of the show implies, these between, or interstitial, spaces are as important as the works themselves. Through September 1. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — MD

"Kyle Farley: Countenance" Most of the eight works by Kyle Farley in this show are lit, either by a source within, by small bulbs on the surface or, as is the case in one piece, by a red spotlight attached to the work. But it's one of the more straightforward pieces that features the strongest imagery. In Untitled (Navajo Swastikas), there are no lights or complex parts, just the black-and-white image of a basketball team digitally printed on wooden boards seemingly ripped from an old basketball court. On their uniforms, the players sport swastikas. But these aren't German Nazis. They're Navajos, circa 1909, photographed before the swastika was adopted as a symbol of the Nazi party. It's a powerful photo, made all the more so by Farley's composition and materials. The ancient symbol is seen again in Swastika Ball. Here, Farley uses a light box and a photograph of a group of children performing the Nazi salute. This scene is not in Germany, either, but Milwaukee during the mid-1930s. One half of the photo is clearly manipulated, as the children are stiffly raising their left arms instead of their right. The 80-year-old image is subversively undermined thanks to some modern-day photo technology. They're big pieces — Farley showed up with 30 works for the show, and the modest Redbud Gallery was able to fit only eight — with big, if also a bit perplexing, ideas. Here's this good ol' boy from Cleburne, Texas, digging up forgotten Nazi paraphernalia. But shock value seems to be only part of it. Other works feature images of the Nazis' base in Antarctica, Vladimir Putin, the American eagle, rockets and oil fields. They're all symbols of power that Farley's managed to diminish. Nothing is off limits here. Through August 27. 303 E. 11th St., 713-862-2532. — MD

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