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Capsule Art Reviews: "The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute," "Garden Object"

"The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute" These days, Impressionist exhibitions are the art museum version of the ballet The Nutcracker: frothy and beautiful, if a little overexposed, and sure to pack 'em in at almost any price. Even though we've already had at least six or eight Impressionist shows during the past ten years, who could fail to love yet another one that includes 70-plus paintings by Renoir, Monet, Pissarro and Degas, among others? That's what the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is offering with "The Age of Impressionism." This isn't a star vehicle so much as an ensemble piece; these aren't the paintings that make the textbooks. They are, rather, a tribute to the taste of a collecting couple with very good eyes for art and lots of resources (that is to say, money) who were buying paintings to enhance their own lives at home rather than to dazzle tourists in museums. Frankly, unless you're something of an art specialist, you may have trouble remembering many of the paintings individually a day or two after you've seen the show. But if you're lucky enough to see it under the right conditions (not too many other viewers, the right kind of light that so often suffuses the galleries in the Rafael Moneo-designed Beck Building at MFAH, at a time when you're really in an art-viewing mood), you're almost certain to remember the deeply satisfying feeling that comes from standing in galleries surrounded by beautiful, harmonious paintings. Not at all a bad memory to take away from any exhibition. Through March 23. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — RT

"Garden Object" If Dr. Seuss and Antoni Gaudí made a sculpture together, it might look something like "Garden Object" at Rice Gallery. It was actually created by husband-and-wife team Roberto Feo and Rosario Hurtado, who are behind the London-based design studio El Ultimo Grito. Their installation snakes through the gallery like some vividly patterned, many-legged llama-esque creature with long, curving and arcing necks. Visitors are invited to sit on the creature's back(s), from which little round tabletops grow, perfect for holding a laptop or a lunch. The bulk of the installation was created with bubble wrap, packing peanuts and tape — the kind of cheap materials you could pick up at any Office Depot or dive for in any office building dumpster. The designers' simple but visually dynamic construction is inspirational rather than aspirational. You could make an extra couch out of the after-Christmas-morning trash pile if you wanted. It's the kind of thing that seems perfectly obvious when you're a kid but that you forget about when you become an adult. Feo and Hurtado are giving permission to grownups to reclaim the improvisations of childhood. Through March 16. Rice University Art Gallery, 6100 Main, Entrance 2, 713-348-6069. — KK

 
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