Capsule Art Reviews: "2010 Glassell Core Exhibition", "Dirty Secrets from the Cataract Cinema", "Iron: Forged, Tempered, Quenched", "Whatever Was Splendid: New American Photographs"

"2010 Glassell Core Exhibition" It's rare (and maybe impossible) that an annual Core Exhibition fires on all cylinders. There's always great anticipation and excitement leading up to the opening, followed by a kind of anticlimactic dud. But perhaps that's the nature of the Core program. It's a wide spectrum of sensibilities and mediums. Nevertheless, this year's Core Exhibition is worth checking out for the work of a few residents. Julie Ann Nagle's Sailing Toward a Hunch is a table-high sculpture made of polyurethane and resin, and it incorporates recognizable shapes and objects into a substance with both synthetic and organic qualities and resembling a huge pomegranate rind. Kelly Sears screens two of her recent video projects. In Excerpt From an Unrealized Story, divers soar and somersault against a blue-sky background, followed by the words "Coming Soon." Voice On The Line uncovers a hilarious government conspiracy called "Project Chatter" in which female telephone operators, with their soothing voices, trick citizens into revealing personal information. And Natasha Bowdoin's The World Below the Brine is an impressive acrylic wall mural in red, blue, gray and orange that interweaves ribbons of text, impossibly tangled into meaninglessness. Through April 16. Glassell School of Art, 5101 Montrose, 713-639-7500. — TS

"Dirty Secrets from the Cataract Cinema" This exhibit of photography by Dan Havel and Chuck Ivy utilizes motion picture imagery to explore themes of time, history and physical degradation. Ivy wrote software to reduce a minute's worth of feature film footage into a single frame. His large C-prints capture moments from movies like Brazil, Naked Lunch, Mirrormask and The Matrix in stunning, hazy amalgamations, as if the image is throbbing with movement from within. Ivy's video piece condenses the entire length of the film Blade Runner into a minute-long blur of frozen shots and long exposures, which somehow manages to encapsulate the movie's moody atmosphere. Havel took still frames from film reels he discovered in an abandoned X-rated-movie theater and blew them up big, emphasizing the damaged emulsion and deep, saturated color, creating sculptural images that exude a nostalgic and viscerally erotic vibe. His video piece, Kiss/Scream, is a digital transfer of '70s porn footage that pulses with hot-pink degraded emulsion, amplifying the ecstatic expressions of the actors while recontextualizing pornography into a more innocent era. Through April 17. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — TS

"Iron: Forged, Tempered, Quenched" Showcasing iron and steel works in a variety of uses and forms, this show, which the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft calls "one of the most significant exhibitions of blacksmithed objects in decades," features impressive work from all over the country. Traditional, practical items and tools, like ax blades and shovels are displayed alongside wild sculpture, like a city of skyscrapers invaded by a giant, multiple-dragon-headed hydra, three tall, totem-like towers of steel, and bright-colored organic forms that look inspired by the cartoon mythology of Daniel Johnston. Strangely, though, it's the practical and nonrepresentational pieces that really stand out. There are some fine furniture pieces and wall sconces on exhibit, as well as abstract sculpture begging for some kind of unusual purpose. The Craft Center has plenty of extra info on the blacksmiths and where to find local ones too. Don't be afraid to ask for a price list. On view through May 16. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — TS

"Whatever Was Splendid: New American Photographs" A riveting, dystopian sensibility dominates much of the work in this exhibition at FotoFest's Vine Street headquarters, curated by Aaron Schuman. These images aren't about America the Beautiful — they're about America the Dysfunctional. Will Steacy's series Down These Mean Streets includes images of Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Queens. The artist shot the photos while trekking from each city's airport to its main business district. They have a postapocalyptic feel to them. Todd Hido's late-1990s images of empty California homes from the last big round of foreclosures offer a quieter and more intimate take on loss and the destruction of lives. The absence of the people whose hopes, dreams and aspirations went into these homes is as palpable as the indentations their furniture left on the carpeting. Richard Mosse is by far the standout of the show. Rather than focusing on America, he focuses on Iraq and the chaos that is the product of American action. His photographs are enormous and highly seductive — they are beautifully shot, in the way a less topical photographer would capture some scenic swath of natural splendor. The images lure you in even as it dawns on you what they depict. Stark desert landscapes are interrupted and dominated by the shells of blown-up cars, the roofs ripped open from within, the bodies pierced by shrapnel and gunfire. Overall, "Whatever Was Splendid" is one of the best FotoFest shows so far. Through April 25. 1113 Vine St., 713-223-5522. — KK


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