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Capsule Art Reviews: "Alissa Blumenthal: A Small Retrospective," "Colony Collapse," "Eric Fischl: Cast & Drawn," "Janice Jakielski: Constructing Solitude," "Unwoven Light"

 "Alissa Blumenthal: A Small Retrospective" Let's get this out of the way. In "Alissa Blumenthal: A Small Retrospective," now up at Art Palace, Alissa Blumenthal is not real. The gallery text may try to tell you otherwise. Press materials describe Blumenthal (1899-1995) as an "underappreciated American painter of the 20th century." Among the highlights procured for her bio, she was born in Russia, studied under Malevich, received a harsh review by Clement Greenberg, died in Brooklyn and was rediscovered in 2011. To the casual gallery goer, it's a fascinating story, but again, one that's entirely made up. This "retrospective" is curated by Tatiana Istomina, a real live artist who's a resident at the Core Residency Program at the Glassell School of Art. She is both the creator of the works on display and the underappreciated Blumenthal. So why such an elaborate, confusing fiction? The answer lies in the works themselves. Istomina has nearly 30 small, mostly gray abstractions on display that are inspired by another time — constructivism. They have clean lines, random characters, and loose doodles and coils. After she painted them, Istomina felt compelled to create this character around them who could justify their existence in 2013. Her interest lies in this bygone period first, in authorship second, if at all. On the one hand, it's a curious, intriguing concept, one that can be appreciated for its creativity and freedom in exploring art history. On the other, it's also pretty cowardly; Istomina doesn't seem to have the confidence to put her name on her work and justify its existence on its own. And for all the attempts to create this fiction in a gallery show, when the pieces are considered outside of the "retrospective," as they inevitably will be, Blumenthal is no longer relevant anyway. She is as nonexistent as she always was, and the work will be judged on its own merits and not on any elaborate, distracting yarn — as it should be. Through May 11. 3913 Main, 281-501-2964. — MD

"Colony Collapse" Nicola Parente has a way of getting your attention. Four years ago, it was with giant mushrooms made of peat moss that sprouted from Art League Houston's patio. The piece, a collaboration with Divya Murphy, was in response to a New York Times article that named Houston the worst recycler among 30 cities in the nation (mushrooms, you see, are natural recyclers). The Houston artist returns with another environmentally themed installation that is, to shamelessly use the pun, creating some buzz. In "Colony Collapse" at micro scope 1824, a boxed-in gallery space at Spring Street Studios, Parente lines the room with more than 2,700 (!) brown paper bags from ceiling to floor — a charming DIY beehive. Fittingly, there are no live bees in this makeshift hive, though the first thing you notice about "Colony Collapse" is the buzzing. It's incessant, and about the last thing you'd expect to hear inside the studio building. Parente has hooked you in. In addition to the sound of buzzing, a video projected onto one wall of the honeycomb captures a handful of bees at work — a memory of what once was. It's a potent message, the rest of the space notably, loudly empty. To further raise awareness to the issue of colony collapse, a pair of boards on the outside wall provide information on the crisis. Your interaction with the hive is disappointingly limited — as is the nature of the gallery, you can look into the space only through a window and a door. But you are invited to leave a comment on a yellow Post-it note and stick it to the gallery's door, in effect adding a new layer to the hive. Through May 31. 1824 Spring, 713-862-0082. — MD

"Eric Fischl: Cast & Drawn" There is great range in both subject matter and material in Eric Fischl's "Cast & Drawn" show at McClain Gallery. All figurative works, they convey bodies that are muscular, fat, ordinary and sensual done in bronze, glass, watercolor and pigment inks cast in resin. The impressive skill on display almost comes as no surprise, given that the art icon is famous for his seductive portrayals of the human body. But the 18 pieces in the show also present a rare opportunity to experience both Fischl's 2-D and his 3-D figurative work and witness how he creates elegant, active forms across multiple mediums. The sculptures are particularly elegant, portraying athletes and bodies in motion. The Dancer looks ready to pounce, all tense concentration on her tippy toes, while Swimmer at Rest looks as pensive as a Rodin. Tumbling Woman, Fischl's somewhat controversial homage to 9/11 victims, is referenced in several sculptures, including a piece in glass and another in bronze. The awkward, unnatural pose — the woman is on her back, her legs lifted and held together to her left side — is meant to evoke the bodies that leapt from the World Trade Center towers. It's a powerful, striking, vulnerable visual, particularly in bronze, even if you don't know the reference. Fischl's colorful resin paintings are a clear departure — if you didn't know any better, you'd think this was a group show. The beach bods depicted are a burnt orange tan, their posture relaxed as they strut around half-clothed or naked. They are completely unself-conscious. His watercolors are more sensual and evocative. Set against a white or splotched background, they are looser, freer depictions of the body and its contours, the subjects stretched out into impossible poses or joined together, indistinguishable from one to the next. A yellowish orange painting of a woman bent over backwards, her arm stretched out in line with her body and her hair flowing beneath her, is particularly breathtaking. Through May 11. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — MD

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