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Capsule Art Reviews: "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection," "Kermit Oliver: Tracing Our Pilgrimage," "N U L <> 2 0 1 3::DOMOKOS," "Rachel Hecker: Group Show," "SPRAWL"

"Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection" There sits in the Caroline Wiess Law Building at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston an exhibition that is equal parts art history and memoriam: "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection," is a connection between Wilson's love of art, her love of the history that created it and, ultimately, her love of MFAH. The exhibit reveals an interesting intersection between ancient Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian and Egyptian art and customs. The clearest connection that stands out among these ancient civilizations is status and wealth. For example, Mummy Portrait of a Young Girl, a wax piece from 30 B.C. to 100 A.D., fuses two cultures: the Egyptian practice of mummification and the Roman custom of creating portraits of the mummified. The young girl's pretty gold locket and fanciful purple robes are more than mere decoration; they tell of the upper-class stock she must have come from, since the hot wax used to make the work of art was fickle, drying quickly and requiring the artist to work swiftly, and families would pay a pretty penny for this service. There are also connections within each culture. Much of ancient Egypt's art could be used for practical purposes and then recycled into other pieces, either useful or artistic. A faience is finely ground crystal. Egyptians manipulated faience into jewelry, game pieces, furniture, bowls and cups, and later converted the crystal into small figurines that would lie with the mummified dead in the afterlife. The shabti of Tjai-en-hebu is one of three such figures on display just outside the gallery's front doors, ranging from tiny to small to medium in size. Through October 27. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300 — AO

"Kermit Oliver: Tracing Our Pilgrimage" The man's face looks aged and weathered. Accordionist is the last vocation you would pick for him, since his wrinkled hands relay the same signs of aging; still, he holds the instrument expertly, fingers lingering over keys the way a lover's graze soft flesh. However nimble and confident his fingers may be, it is his face that catches the eye. He wears an expression of fear, and it's not hard to see why: Behind him, a tiger's body is caught in mid-pounce. His left paw is raised, his claws, unsheathed. The success of Orpheus, a painting by Kermit Oliver, is its realism, created by the expert application of acrylic oil to canvas. The acrylic oil is applied in short downward strokes, creating vertical lines that imply movement. Acrylic oil is also put on in layers, one on top of the other, making the picture look wet. Because liquids are known for their fluidity, this technique also gives the painting kinetic movement. This is what makes the man look so tight, the tiger so taut, as if he (or she) may in fact bypass Orpheus altogether and jump out of the painting toward you. "Kermit Oliver: Tracing Our Pilgrimage" is an exhibition of 17 paintings — including Orpheus — taking up Art League Houston's front and hallway galleries. The works on display span 30 of his 40 years as a painter. Dido and Aeneas (1997) is split vertically into halves, with the left side portraying a black and bleak funeral procession. Not one to divert from the African-American lineage present in most of his paintings, Oliver paints the originally Carthaginian Dido as a black woman with long dreadlocks accessorized with golden beads. Her face has a ghostly pallor. Oliver's talent with oils is evident here also; whereas in Orpheus he made the oils wet, here he takes a wet substance and makes it look dry, like powder. Oliver is a native Texan and Texas Southern University graduate who, until a month ago, quietly sorted mail in a Waco post office. However, his Texas roots were not enough to inspire the famously reclusive painter to come to his own opening Friday evening. (Ironically, this elusiveness doesn't stop Oliver from designing a scarf every year for one of the world's most coveted couture brands, Hermès. Fancy, huh?) Despite this, Art League Houston not only exhibits Oliver, but honors him with its 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award — hermit factor notwithstanding. Through November 15. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — AO

"N U L <> 2 0 1 3::DOMOKOS" Houston gallery HOMELAND presents the first solo exhibition by Domokos Benczéd, an artist/musician and contributor to the experimental noise band Future Blondes. "N U L <> 2 0 1 3::DOMOKOS" is a large-scale installation that will evolve and change over the course of its one-month run in the gallery though ongoing performances, "noise sets" and live events. Currently on display at the gallery is what can be described as the "backbone" of the piece, which consists of mixed-media, projection, print and sculpture. The whole thing feels like a dystopian, futuristic world, especially given the gallery's stark warehouse milieu. Patrons may think that they've just drifted onto the set of the sci-fi noir film Blade Runner. Everything here is dark and broken. Given Benczéd's background as a noise creator whose music is a series of scrapes and pulses, the visual representation of his musical concepts is not surprising. It's definitely strange, enigmatic, nihilistic, perhaps even foreboding. While I can't honestly say that I "got it," it did make me think, and sometimes that is all that art needs to do. Through November 9. For more information, visit  galleryhomeland.org. — AK

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