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"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

"Maggie Taylor: No Ordinary Days" Maggie Taylor's brand of photomontage is a fascinating mix of old and new forms of photography that results in even more fascinating images. Since 1996, the Florida artist has been working with Photoshop, taking advantage of its imaging magic to create pictures that are truly surreal, strange and, yes, magical. She starts with 19th-century tintypes, photographs and other images she's acquired from flea markets, antique stores, eBay or other artists. She scans and then manipulates them in Photoshop, colorizing and layering the originals with her own photographs and other images she's come across. In what takes only seconds to describe, Taylor will spend weeks, often months manipulating a single piece, adding upwards of 60 layers or more. Thirty of these resulting images are on display at Catherine Couturier Gallery, timed to the publication of a new book of Taylor's works titled No Ordinary Days. Indeed, these pieces are anything but ordinary. Taylor's work is often described using the word "dreamscapes," but it's difficult to tell whether it's born of dreams or nightmares. In her alternate, unsettling realities, bees can magically coordinate to form a dress; a swimmer walks a cloud; a child tears her head in two as if it's a piece of paper; pigs fly; animals, flowers and leaves explode out of the back of a man's head; and landscapes are paradoxically lit like in Magritte's Empire of Light, the sky light as day while the land is in the shadows of darkness. They're by turns delightful and bizarre, but they're oddly compelling in their strangeness. They seem like illustrations to fairy tales or children's stories, full of whimsy, beauty and originality. And like any good tale, they leave you questioning your own sense of what's possible. Through February 9. 2635 Colquitt, 713-524-5070. — MD

"Mie Olise: Crystal Bites of Dust" The Gowanus Canal is barely two miles long and yet the lore surrounding the Brooklyn waterway is renowned. Decades of pollution from chemical plants and coal yards on its shores have made it one of the most contaminated bodies of water in the nation, and two years ago it was designated a Superfund site. At one point, it was even diagnosed with gonorrhea. Sadly, it's also a place where dolphins go to die. For years, the area surrounding the canal has also attracted artists looking for cheap rents and the romantic inspiration that decaying industrial sites can bring. Mie Olise is one of them. Originally from Copenhagen, the painter currently has a studio only a few blocks from the canal, and her latest series pulls directly from the canal (literally, it turns out, too). As if the canal's bleak, rugged industrialism and murky, toxic waters didn't provide enough to work with, Olise was also painting after Hurricane Sandy, and the resulting displacement of the area's structures is evident. Things are slightly off in her loose, flat paintings. Boats and canoes lean at odd angles, and factories and plants stand on stilts, stretching up to the sky at unsettling heights and tilts. These aren't landscapes, either — the boats and houses that occupy her monumental paintings and small studies exist in their own planes, with little telling you this is even a waterfront, save for the reflections of canoes in a couple of works. In a move that's both fascinating and icky, Olise uses her subject literally in her paintings, mixing water from the Gowanus with her acrylic paint. It's there in all of her works, though its presence seems to be most evident in the dirty brown of "Loading House." The titular house looms intimidatingly and threatens to collapse on its thin wooden legs at any second, or just wash away completely. Thanks to the dripping quality of Olise's Gowanus paint, it seems to be in the midst of that process. But these works aren't all dark. Olise employs unnaturally cheery pastels in her paintings, from the pinks in the canoes and solid backdrops to the dreamy strips of blues in her abandoned factories. The Gowanus in Olise's mind is not some gross, sad place, but one still worthy of some color and beauty. Through March 8. Barbara Davis Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — MD

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