"Intertwined: Contemporary Baskets from the Sara and David Lieberman Collection" For many, basket weaving is one of those crafts that stereotypically symbolizes the ultimate in boredom; the last bastion of activity when one has nothing better to do. With this exhibit, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft has effectively shattered that stereotype. The exhibit does contain examples of the decorative-yet-utilitarian baskets one would expect, but the show's vast majority of objects (more than 70 on display) are abstract sculptures. It's as if these artists set out to make traditional ornate baskets — and then the acid kicked in. Fran Reed's basket looks like it would work fine for carrying stuff; it's made out of dried silver salmon skins with the tails, fins and scales still on. Naoko Serino's The Ball You Blow is a seven-by-seven-by-seven-inch cube made of a hardened, wispy, cottony fiber. Inside, a sphere (made of the same material) floats — it's unclear how; the strange vortexes whirling on each side of the cube may have something to do with it. Perhaps the most bizarre piece is Jan Hopkins's Eye of the Beholder, a female bust made of grapefruit peel, waxed linen, hemp paper and lotus pods. The sculpture's grapefruit-peel face resembles a Lucha Libre mask. It encapsulates the unpredictability of this exhibit. Who would have thought Mexican wrestling and basket weaving could somehow coalesce? Through September 23. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — TS
"Nexus Texas" This exhibition's title stresses the simple, focused connection on display: Texas inspires exceptional artists. Some of the only ostensibly Texas-inspired work (there's very little) comes from Houston's El Franco Lee II. His paintings freeze explosive, mostly infamous, moments in sports and urban culture. Rudy T. Vs. Kermit Washington captures "The Punch" that reverberated through the sports world on December 9, 1977. Technology looms large in Texas, so it's no wonder artists choose to explore it. Paul Slocum's performative objects combine antique electronic devices with pop music and digital imagery. For Combat, Slocum hacked a 1977 Atari 2600 console and the game it came packed with (Combat) to create a loopy, self-deconstructing cyberpunk symphony. Music is a major element of Justin Boyd's eerie sculpture/installation. On the floor, an old reel-to-reel tape recorder plays a droning recording of a female voice — kind of a long, wavering moan. Impressively, the tape spools have been attached to wooden pyramid frames which flank the recorder and elevate the spools; the tape itself is effectively fed into the air, creating a huge, stretched-out triangle. Amy Blakemore's striking photos convey an inexplicable sadness. Most melancholy is Dad, a photo of Blakemore's father in his hospital bed just minutes after he died. Elegantly composed, it almost comes across as a painting. And not to be missed is Roberto Bellini's video Landscape Theory, depicting birds and a sunset in a parking lot outside Austin — and a conversation with a security guard who advises Bellini to turn off his camera and leave. The discussion is amiable, but it reveals paranoia. Through October 21. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — TS
"Intertwined: Contemporary Baskets from the Sara and David Lieberman Collection," "Nexus Texas," "Perspectives 157: Xaviera Simmons," "War and Remembrance"
"Perspectives 157: Xaviera Simmons" Xaviera Simmons's installation at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston will make you lament the passing of the LP. Simmons has covered the walls of the downstairs gallery with vintage album covers from her collection of recordings by black artists. Dinky CDs and image-free digital mp3 records lack the impact of those album cover visuals and their provocative, creative images that sometimes became as iconic as the music itself. The densely packed albums of the installation are a nostalgia trip as well as a visual record of the massive role black artists have played in music and popular culture. There are album covers from jazz greats such as John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy as well as funk artists such as Bootsy Collins and rap icons such as Tupac. There are albums from people you never even knew sang — Jasmine Guy's "Don't Want Money," anyone? Then there are people you forgot about, such as Grace Jones, and people that you wanted to forget about, such as, say, El DeBarge. Through September 16. 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — KK
"War and Remembrance" The iconic February 23, 1945 photograph of five Marines and one Navy corpsman raising the American flag on Iwo Jima is perhaps the most grand, dramatic and soul-stirring image of American military action ever captured. It's a surprise, then, to see the earliest known print of that photograph displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's "War and Remembrance" exhibit. The print of the photo, taken by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Joe Rosenthal, is smaller than a postcard. It has the effect of a tightly packed firecracker, which would eventually explode like an atom bomb. Also on display are photographs by Robert Capa, often called the greatest war photographer. His D-Day photos were severely damaged, but the blurriness and high contrast — as seen in a horrifying image of an American soldier swimming to shore — convey the chaos, fear and bravery of that battle. The most stunning image of the exhibit, though, might be one that addresses the casualties of war — Henri Huet's 1966 photo of the body of an American paratrooper killed in action in the jungle near Cambodia, being raised into an evacuation helicopter. It almost looks as if the body is falling — or even diving — in a blissful and selfless act of sacrifice. Through September 16. MFAH Caroline Wiess Law Building, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — TS