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Capsule Art Reviews: "Claes Oldenburg: Strange Eggs," "Ewan Gibbs: Arlington National Cemetery," "Mac Whitney: Sculptures and Paintings," "The Progress of Love," "Unpremeditated Natures: Russ Havard and David McClain"

 "Claes Oldenburg: Strange Eggs" The name Claes Oldenburg may bring to mind sculptures of giant lipsticks, ice cream cones and shuttlecocks. Today, the esteemed 83-year-old artist is known for his playful, larger-than-life public art installations of ordinary objects. This conversation between art and the everyday is one Oldenburg's been having since the start of his career more than 50 years ago, as a rare exhibition currently on view at The Menil Collection demonstrates. "Strange Eggs" consists of 18 collages Oldenburg made within two years after moving to New York in 1956. Notably, curator Michelle White has brought the complete works together for the first time with this show; until now, surprisingly, the series has never been shown in its entirety. The show is found in the surrealistic section of the Menil. It's an appropriate space; these experimental works are composed of photographic reproductions of advertisements and images in newspapers and magazines, melded together in unnatural ways. The black and white collages feature self-contained forms (the "strange eggs"), two to five to a page. Disturbingly, the imagery used is mostly indiscernible; the photographs are manipulated beyond recognition from the source material to the point where they're just texture. They even seem to drip down the page in "Strange Eggs V." None of the works are named after anything in particular. In fact, they're simply numbered in Roman numerals from "I" to "XVIII." However anonymous, these strange eggs do sometimes contain recognizable imagery. Long manes of hair, likely from shampoo ads, pieces of pie and even the limbs of horses can be found within the world of each collage. It's this familiarity amid all the strangeness that keeps you coming back for more. Through February 3. 1533 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — MD

"Ewan Gibbs: Arlington National Cemetery" Ewan Gibbs has turned his distinguishable pixelated drawing style on topics as diverse as the Statue of Liberty, the Chicago Ferris Wheel and hotel facades. Seemingly part-photography, part-drawing, his technique is inspired by grid-like knitting patterns the artist started incorporating into his work two decades ago to turn photographs, both found and his own, into drawings. One of his latest subjects is particularly inspired for his particular line of visual play: the Arlington National Cemetery. On a visit to the famous site, Gibbs was taken by the military cemetery's impressive landscape, from its rolling hills to centuries-old trees. In 16 drawings inspired by this visit on view in the lower level of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Law Building, he alternates between depicting landscapes and, in slightly smaller works, headstones. The landscapes are the more impressive pieces as Gibbs captures the ebb of the neat white rows of headstones on the cemetery's hills, as well as the more scattered arrangement of the markers. These are not giant drawings that try to overwhelm or impress you with scale. Rather, they are small, intimate, quiet and meditative. The headstones are less effective; the names, dates and epitaphs on the stone are difficult to make out. No amount of stepping back to let the image come into focus makes it any easier to bring the drawing together. That's partly the point, to turn these images into near abstractions, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating. Alongside Gibbs's drawings, the MFAH also has on view photographs by artists who have inspired Gibbs. The inclusion is a bit distracting and superfluous, though; there's no context as to why these particular photographs are included, and anyway, Gibbs's drawings are enough on their own to spend time with. Through February 10. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — MD

"Mac Whitney: Sculptures and Paintings" Mac Whitney's current show at Gallery Sonja Roesch only just went up earlier in January, but the sculptor would be familiar to regular gallery-goers as well as those who just happen to drive by the Midtown gallery. For the past seven months, the artist's 3,000-plus-pound sculpture Carrizozo has stood prominently outside the gallery, a red beacon as well as a preview of sorts of his solo show — a variety bag of a dozen of the Texas artist's sculptures, as well as a handful of paintings, all made over the latter half of his more than 40-year career. Whitney is a skilled metalworker who can manipulate steel at any scale and make it bend or curve at his command. It's quite astonishing to go from his 20-foot-tall Carrizozo to the barely 20-inch Bosque, another red number that rests on the gallery's table and is one of the first works you see upon entering. Despite their difference in stature, they have the same sense of strength, movement and elegance. Through his minimal use of color — just solid reds, blacks, blues or grays — he lets the raw steel do the talking. The artist's paintings are quite the departure from his metalwork. Where Whitney's sculptures are strong, interlocking forms, his oil paintings are loose and erratic in their lines. Where his sculptures are solid, bold colors, his paintings are messy bursts of blues, yellows and reds all at once. It's like he's freeing his mind from the constraints of the steel and imagining what shapes he might be able to bend his next sculpture into, against all odds. Through February 23. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424. —MD

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