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Capsule Art Reviews: "Fantastic Habitat," "Retro-spectacle," "Room Divider," "Who Collects Clouds in the Sky?"

 "Fantastic Habitat" "Fantastic Habitat" is a series of 11 photographs that begin before the camera points and shoots. Before hanging them in Lawndale Art Center's Cecily E. Horton Gallery, Susi Brister spent time gluing together wildly patterned fabric and textile materials, which she then draped over unknown objects in natural settings. Some of the fabrics and textiles look tribal, and thus more aligned with the second half of the exhibition's title, such as Black Trees (2013), while others, such as Crystal-Studded Shag in Dunes (2012), a cylindrical object covered in funky white fur, and Spangles, Limestone (2013), a tiny cylinder cloaked in red, silver and black sparkles, look more fantastical, doing service to the first half. Is Brister tampering with nature? A subtle manipulation is more like it. By taking these artificial, man-made creations and dropping them into organic settings, she creates a tug-of-war between the natural and the unnatural, challenging conventional notions of what is beautiful: the natural or the artificial? Or both? Maybe she just wants to spice up a mundane scene of trees, rocks and sand dunes with pretty objects. Speaking of pretty objects, what's underneath all those textures and textiles, anyway? That question is moot. Whether the covered objects are animate or inanimate is a matter of conjecture, and the anonymity is what makes these pictures so compelling. But don't worry. It's not the bogeyman hiding under those pieces of fabric, except in 613 Silky Straight in Swamp (2013), which is certainly Bigfoot bent over. He's alive! Through September 28. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — AO

"Retro-spectacle" Wade Wilson Art recently opened "Retro-spectacle," a two-part past-and-present exhibition by Houston-based artist Michael Crowder. The "Retro" is Crowder's retrospective: innocuous glass and crystal mixed-media pieces hanging in the front part of the gallery, followed by the "spectacle," a fabulous three-dimensional installation in back. The two-in-one exhibition is separated by two white walls, drawn open by a dramatic "red velvet" curtain. What Crowder has done, essentially, is transform Wade Wilson Art into two rooms. To the untrained eye, walking into the back of "Mariposa mori" is like walking into a Shakespearean book collection and a Darwinian laboratory at the same time. In fact, Crowder's intention is to frame his pieces in a historical, 19th-century museum setting — hence, the transformation of Wade Wilson Art into a dark, cozy nook. Those deep burgundy curtains reveal a faux bookshelf that's actually wallpaper pasted onto the walls. In the center of the installation and on its walls are a "19th-century collector's cabinet of curiosities," according to reception programs, containing hundreds of glass butterflies. They are par for the course for Crowder, who regularly uses "frail" objects such as chocolate and sugar for his mixed-media artwork. By framing a set of books and butterflies in and among dark burgundy curtains and mahogany cabinets, "Mariposa mori" arouses a mood of intelligence and luxury. The dark color scheme and the enclosed installation also invoke a mood similar to that of the butterflies before flight. It's common knowledge that butterflies spend a portion of time in cocoons before emerging. Likewise, by walking inside of "Mariposa mori," visitors immerse themselves in a cocoon filled with books and butterflies — the latter, it is assumed, meant as inspiration. When they leave, they too are butterflies, only their wings are the intelligence they gleaned while soaking up those books. It's very hard to define what's "Retro" about the pieces outside of the installation; like "Mariposa mori," they are also mixed-media and made up of frail objects. A Sense of History Reprise (Oval Painting) and A Sense of History Reprise 2 (Large Painting) look like porcelain dinnerware, but are actually made from the same pâte de verre used to create the butterflies. Pâte de verre is found on other pieces as well, and the outside also makes use of the burgundy color theme; painting the walls in dark red emphasizes the hanging pieces, which are done in hues of ivory, burgundy or mahogany. The dash connecting "Retro-spectacle" is more than mere decoration, then; it is a line that connects Crowder's past work to his present. Through October 25. 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299. — AO

"Room Divider" Mira can cut with the best of them. Instead of chop, chop, chop, throw, throw, throw, the artist brings an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better spirit to the craft of woodcutting, abandoning saws or axes for lasers to cut plywood into geometrical shapes, which she then lines up into precise domino-style formations. "Room Divider" is her solo exhibition, proving Mira's flair for plywood precision. In addition to woodwork, Mira is also a disciple to the current trend of "found object art," in which she cultivates discarded or donated foam, plastic and paper to create sculptures big, medium and small. The origins of "Room Divider" belong to this trend. "This body of work began when I acquired 9,000 scrap plywood triangles from a laser cutting company in Northern Colorado, where I was living at the time," Mira wrote to us in an e-mail. "I've worked on variations of these sculptures at four different artist residencies in four different states — Spiro Arts, McColl Center for Visual Art, Taliesin West, and most recently here in town at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. The process is essentially one of endless repetition, making small modular units over and over until the sculpture reaches dimensions and a scale I'm satisfied with." She adds, "The show consists of three main works. The largest piece extends nearly 21 feet in length, while other works are wall mounted with variable dimensions." Mira has taken the triangles and glued them together into a circular structure, creating a sculpture that is both triangular and spherical — a geometry professor's dream. The opposing shapes don't take away from the of the color of the plywood; each plywood triangle's tan color and sharp edge gives the sculpture a polished look, like something that a modern furniture store might sell. The 21-foot portion of the exhibition extends the length of Lawndale's Project Space, where it bisects the room, creating two rooms in one. Hence, "Room Divider." Until September 28. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — AO

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