"Andreas Nottebohm: Into the Light," "Claire Ankenman: Slices," "Contemporary Conversations: Robert Ryman, 1976," "Gratitude, There's No Competition," "Howard Sherman: In my mind, you're inflatable," "TexasMade" and "Option-H"
"Andreas Nottebohm: Into the Light" Andreas Nottebohm's tinted and engraved raw metal surfaces walk a line between art and novelty. Like those computer-generated stereograms that require forced optical distortion to make out the hidden three-dimensional forms, Nottebohm's works can induce dizziness and vertigo if you stare at them too long. By meticulously scratching flat sheets of raw metal, Nottebohm creates clearly demarcated 3-D zones that penetrate and project from the surface. Some pieces have an almost liquid feel; the surface ripples as you move around it. Into the Light #11 features a central 3-D triangle hovering over horizontal bars. The shimmering metal reflects the gallery's multicolored lighting — dimmers can be adjusted to achieve the right palette. A series of four panels depicts targets, almost like 3-D versions of Jasper Johns's iconic works. It's impossible to resist taking a close look, as if to reassure oneself that the surfaces are actually flat. But spellbinding as they may be, the pieces tend to repeat their effects, and their initial thrill ebbs. Nottebohm's technique is outstanding, though. The possibilities are exciting. Through February 16. New Gallery, 2627 Colquitt, 713-520-7053. — TS
"Claire Ankenman: Slices" At first, "Slices" seems like a study, an exploration of a technique. Ankenman has carefully sliced, like a pie, circular sections of paper that have been colored with gesso, coffee and red tea. This minimalist approach at first feels mechanical and soon turns spooky and a little unsettling. The thin tendrils of paper, slightly curling toward an inward cavity, begin to represent wounds in skin, and sometimes the coffee and red tea eerily look like dried blood or an infected redness. A triptych, Slices #23, #24 and #25, could be frames of time-lapse photography taken of the traumatic damage done by the cutting, from initial injury to festering and into monstrous swelling. It becomes clear that Ankenman is exploring something deeper than just cutting; she's delving into the effects of penetration and the scars left behind. Also on display are a series of cast-bronze versions of the theme, and interestingly, the bronze mimics the look of paper, its texture and volume. They're like old, fossilized remnants of pain. If visual art can be called "Cronenbergian," this is it. Through February 16. Moody Gallery, 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911. — TS
"Contemporary Conversations: Robert Ryman, 1976" It's difficult to look at a Robert Ryman painting without an initial feeling of being cheated. The artist has limited himself almost entirely to the color white as a way of boiling down the essence of painting to a reduced process, the very act of laying paint on a surface and subsequently installing the work in a viewing space. Ryman once said, "There is never a question of what to paint, but only how to paint." To many viewers, Ryman comes off as a snake-oil salesman — selling pennies for a dollar. It's somewhat infuriating, and that's exactly the feeling you should have, but you should also keep looking. Once you've broken through that exterior facade, Ryman's work begins to release rewards. These three 1976 specimens, part of the Menil Collection's "Contemporary Conversations" series, are very stark examples of Ryman's oeuvre; all-white panels of pastel and oil paint on Plexiglas and blue Acrylivin are fixed to the wall with steel fasteners and bolts. It's the most distilled version of performance art ever, and the "I don't get it" exhibit of the year. And in a weird way, it's kind of thrilling. On view through February 17. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS
"Gratitude, There's No Competition" The fruits of our daydreams — those casual doodles on the edges of TPS reports and torn bits of paper scattered across the office floor — are products of the unrestrained creative mind. Katie Kahn's art explores the down time in our crowded lives. At Joan Wich & Co. Gallery, she's showing a series of works drawn and painted directly onto pages of The New York Times. The images and words already present on the page become part of her compositions, and the news of the day adds substance and irony to her archetypal figures. In surreal group portraits, half-ink, half-photograph figures emerge out of fields of wispy Wite-Out brushstrokes. Hatch marks and hybrid characters switch fields between background and foreground. Kahn's work is full of evocative references and accidental genius. Through March 1. 4411 Montrose, 713-526-1551. — SC
"Howard Sherman: In my mind, you're inflatable" Like abstract scenes from a red-light district, Howard Sherman's paintings reflect an undercover world of commodity. In bright color and dynamic, angular and broadly layered coverage, Sherman depicts a delightfully garish and confrontational urban conflict. It's impossible to know the narrative, but sometimes Sherman supplies a character that we can glom onto while his intangible tornado blows through town. Judging from some of the titles, like Paralytic Hooker, Titanium Dildo and Donkey Punching Bastards, the "inflatable" Sherman imagines must be of the female variety found at adult bookstores. Sometimes it's possible to make out a commanding image, like the phallic one in Colossal Jerk. But here's where the paintings' titles influence what we perceive, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's interesting to imagine them untitled. Sherman has peppered these works with little repeated motifs, like syringes, that nail down the environment. It feels mythic, too, like that place doesn't really exist anymore. It bleeds Lower East Side, Manhattan, circa 1981. Through February 16. McMurtry Gallery, 3508 Lake, 713-523-8238. — TS
"TexasMade" and "Option-H" Our coastal locale tends to inspire rough, emotional riffs on contemporary life, and the best and brightest have been gathered for a small exhibit of superstars at McClain Gallery. Robert Rauschenberg's wax fire works series consists of industrial images silkscreened on mirrors in garish colors, while Julian Schnabel's San Pedro throws a hand-painted tornado across a map of an island. Mel Chin's Rough Rider, a sculpted barbed-wire saddle, is a prickly reminder of Texan stereotypes, commenting on both the discomfort of living up to expectations and how Yankees perceive us. James Surls's Untitled is a rounded, hanging metal cage pierced by a rough-hewn wooden knife; it displays his signature homemade feel, along with a sense of constrained malice and a knot of references as twisted as the roots of an East Texas cypress swamp. John Alexander's Nevermore shows crows picking at the smashed contents of a field of watermelons; the painting's expressionist surface is a riot of red and green, conjuring spilled blood and signaling the artist's political discontent. Besides the big names, the gallery is also showing work by younger Houston artists in "Option-H." Mark Flood's Cliff Dwelling bridges the gap between the beautiful and the gritty; his work is the clear offspring of the best of Texan postmodernism. And California surfer dude Aaron Parazette's Flyaway, a kooky computer-modeled text painting, forsakes legibility for a sharp-edged composition. Through February 16. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — SC
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