Capsule Art Reviews: "Aaron Parazette: New Paintings," "Chantal Akerman: Moving Through Time and Space," "Design Life Now: National Design Triennial 2006," "Tony Berlant," "A Visceral Valentine,"
"Aaron Parazette: New Paintings" When Aaron Parazette left Texas Gallery for McClain Gallery, some local artists saw it as a sign of the apocalypse. But Parazette's new paintings are anything but apocalyptic, and his new show at McClain is fantastic. He's still building hard-edged, abstract paintings around the letters of surfing terms, as he did in his outstanding 2004 Perspectives show at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, but his new work is even better. The letters of surfing terms like "spinner" and "boink" (I'm taking his word that that is a surfing term) are stretched, condensed, overlapped and rearranged into elegant, and generally unreadable, compositions. While the approach isn't different from his CAMH show, the painting's colors and compositions are even more sophisticated, and their execution is even more flawless. Parazette has developed a great strategy for making his paintings, and where some artists might easily be satisfied with that, Parazette keeps honing and refining his approach and his paintings. Through March 22. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — KK
"Chantal Akerman: Moving Through Time and Space" This show at the Blaffer Gallery will quietly blow away just about any video installation you have ever seen. Chantal Akerman is a filmmaker who creates video installations filled with cinematic power. She has been called "the most important European director of her generation." The standout of the show is From the East: Bordering on Fiction, (D'est: Au bord de la fiction). It's a 1995 film Akerman shot in East Germany, Poland, the Baltic States and Russia shortly after the fall of communism. It's not really a documentary; it's not fiction; and it doesn't have much of a narrative. Akerman says she "filmed everything that touched me," simply turning her camera on the people and cities, but the results are mesmerizing. The amazing panorama of images are everyday but somehow extraordinary. Unfortunately, there's a problem with acoustics in this show. They're at their worst in Akerman's installation Down There (Là-bas) (2006). This is a more straightforward, single-channel projection on one wall shot by Akerman in Tel Aviv when she was there teaching. Most of the film was shot through the windows of the furnished apartment she had rented; you feel a sense of depression, a sense of confinement and isolation. She reveals herself through precious clues provided by occasional narration, but the problem is, you can't freakin' hear those precious clues. The Blaffer has always been a difficult space; in general the acoustics are terrible. A tremendous amount of effort went into arranging this exhibition — I wish more effort had gone into mediating the acoustic problems. Through March 29. 120 University of Houston, Fine Arts Building, 713-743-9530. — KK
"Design Life Now: National Design Triennial 2006" For an exhibition about design, this show isn't very well designed. Organized by the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the original installation apparently took up three of its floors. In the exhibit's Houston incarnation, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston's upstairs gallery is so jam-packed with designers' products — lamps, furniture, clothes, vases, electronics, etc. — that it feels like a close-out sale. The jumbled feeling of the show isn't entirely the CAMH's fault. In press materials, the Triennial is described as a collection of "the most innovative American designs from the prior three years in a variety of fields, including product design, architecture, furniture, film, graphics, new technologies, animation, science, medicine and fashion." It's a broad agenda that includes 87 designers and firms, with no apparent organizing principles. Like is rarely arranged with like, whether in appearance, approach, concept or function, and no items seem to be intentionally contrasted. Still, the crowded show has lots of covetable products, great ideas and fascinating projects, if you can manage to focus on them. There are plenty of cool examples of design for daily life, including gorgeous, glacially faceted vases by David Wiseman, a "Knock Down/Drag-Out" plywood dining table by Christopher Douglas that assembles and disassembles more easily than a kid's toy, and Jason Miller's amusing upholstered chair with strips of leather appliquéd over the arms to mimic the look of duct tape repairs. Through April 20. 5216 Montrose Blvd., 713-284-8250. — KK
"Tony Berlant" California-based Tony Berlant crafts colorful abstract collages using found tin scraps and fabricated and printed sheet tin. He fixes the pieces of tin to plywood using steel brads. The effect is like a jumbled-up puzzle put together incorrectly, like the pieces were hammered and forced into the wrong places, except Berlant intricately overlaps and massages shapes into his works. It isn't clear where Berlant finds the imagery printed on his fabricated tin, but it looks like cheesy wallpaper design — there are flower motifs, woody scenes with deer antlers, even what look like classic car patterns. Certain pieces employ a central representational image, like the birdlike shape at the center of Nest; others contain a well-scattered coverage of different colors and similar-sized scraps, like Sunny Side. Petrified Forest comes the closest to a recognizable correlation between image and title. Berlant has cleverly composed a realistic rendering of a petrified tree trunk broken in seven pieces. Also surprising is the textural element. The tin actually looks more like synthetic textile, rather than metal. Perhaps the steel brads suggest, in a way, a natural juxtaposition between fabric and metal. It's beautiful work. Through March 29. Texas Gallery, 2012 Peden, 713-524-1593. — TS
"A Visceral Valentine" More visceral than valentine, the current group show at Apama Mackey Gallery delivers a darkly comic look at love. Riffing on the February 14 holiday, there's also an exploration of color, particularly red and pink, on display here. Jennifer Tong's comic book panel A Romance depicts a young woman and her talking frog "boyfriend" going for a walk in the woods. She takes a nap in the grass, and bestial mythological molestation ensues; it's cute! Kuro Unagi (the artist's name is literally a species of freshwater eel) takes us to the disturbing side of animal love with a series of women engaging in sex acts with, you guessed it, eels. Think Patrick Nagel as a demented schoolboy, doodling in detention. Lisa Alisa contributes some colorful and visually engaging acrylic paintings of Asian females in various communions with animals. You can't miss Marcus Adams's airbrushed acrylic Three Legged Hermaphrodite; the deranged, grotesque Kewpie-doll-headed freak feels ever-present in the tiny gallery. And Yuka Yamaguchi's twisted illustrations of a little schoolgirl playing mutilation games with a giant rooster just might make your viscera a little queasy. Through March 23. 628 E 11th St., 713-850-8527. — TS
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