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Capsule Art Reviews: "Colony Collapse," "The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning," "Halls without walls, room to feel in. The door awaits you, your return within," "Maurice," "Pastmodern," "Salt House," "Shambhala"

"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

"The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning" In Tehran, more than a million people viewed it; at the Smithsonian Institution, there was timed ticketing. While worlds apart, all these people came to see a clay object no larger than a football. Despite its unassuming size and material, the Cyrus Cylinder is no ordinary object. It is one of the most iconic items in the British Museum's collection — an artifact from 6th century BC Babylon inscribed with the earliest form of writing that is often referred to as the first declaration of human rights. A five-city tour of the United States currently brings the famed object to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in what's a must-see attraction for anyone interested in ancient history, ancient Persian cultural artifacts, archeology and even religious tolerance. The Cylinder is an incredible object thanks to the text inscribed on it in Babylonian cuneiform. After capturing Babylon (modern-day Iraq) in 539 BC, Persian King Cyrus the Great allowed deported people to return to their homeland. The people in question were likely to be Jews expelled by the previous ruler of Babylon, and indeed the Hebrew Bible praises Cyrus for this incredible act of freedom of worship. Since being discovered during a British Museum excavation in 1879, the Cyrus Cylinder has become a symbol of tolerance the world over. It even has its own replica at the United Nations. In addition to the Cylinder, the modest exhibition also features a little more than a dozen objects that demonstrate innovation and cultural advancement in the Persian Empire. These include a new writing system (Old Persian cuneiform), carved seals, currency, and luxury goods like gold armlets and gold and silver bowls. Ironically, for all that gold, one of the most important pieces in the exhibition is one of the least valuable as far as materials go. The Cyrus Cylinder is just made of clay, but it has the greatest weight. Through June 14. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. —MD

"Halls without walls, room to feel in. The door awaits you, your return within." Abhidnya Ghuge works with the most common and disposable of materials — paper plates. Their abundance comes in handy, though. In her site-specific installations, the artist employs them by the thousands to create unusual forms that snake organically across the room. Her latest installation, poetically yet incomprehensibly titled "Halls without walls, room to feel in. The door awaits you, your return within." takes over the Grace R. Cavnar Gallery at Lawndale Art Center. The somewhat awkwardly shaped room responds well to a work that compels its way through the space, changing how you walk through and forcing you to interact with it. This isn't a flat, unresponsive surface but a dynamic, fleshed-out work with depth; you can see it from all sides and have it completely surround you. With the paper plates folded up into cones and held in place by a wire frame, the flowing form looks like a coral reef out of water. An original wood-block carving is printed on these thousands of paper plates in bright orange, yellow, blue and white colors, further adding to this scaly, reef effect. Upon closer inspection, the wood block design is less coral-inspired and more henna — a nod to the Tyler, Texas-based artist's Indian origins. It's a highly unusual piece, one that's completely unexpected and oddly pretty. It's best viewed as a whole; up close, it's simply paper plates with prints on them, which isn't so magical. But step back and take it all in, and it becomes something else entirely. Through June 15. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — MD

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