Capsule Art Reviews: "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul," "Bryan Wheeler: The Souls of Texans Are In Jeopardy In Ways Not Common To Other Men," "Helen Lessick: Other Arrangements," "Javier de Villota," "Round 30: Home. Space"
"Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul" Although the Taliban managed to blow up the Bamyan Buddhas, they didn't get their hands on everything. This exhibition showcases artifacts from the country's incredibly rich cultural heritage. It includes delicate gold ornaments from the 2,000-year-old "Bactrian Hoard." Discovered by a Soviet archeologist in 1978, the artifacts were taken to the National Museum in Kabul. As communist rule was crumbling, a small group of museum workers packed them up in crates (sometimes cushioning them with toilet paper) and placed them in a vault underneath the presidential palace. The hoard was something of a legend in the archaeological community until its rediscovery was announced by the Karzai government in 2003. The exhibition also includes finds from the Greco-Bactrian royal city of Aï Khanum. A video takes the viewer through a haunting and amazingly well done 3-D digital reconstruction of the city. Adjacent to the video is a giant wall photograph of the present-day site, a dusty, empty plain backed by mountains and pocked with holes dug by looters. Through May 17. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 5601 Main, 713-639-7300. — KK
"Bryan Wheeler: The Souls of Texans Are In Jeopardy In Ways Not Common To Other Men" These nine works by Bryan Wheeler, the younger of the Wheeler Brothers who curate the annual "Ulterior Motifs" show in Lubbock, display the lexicon of motifs that folks instantly recognize as the Texan's signature: vast Western landscapes peppered with fast-food joints, swimming pools, diving jetliners, fish and cheesecake T&A. They're the surreal fever dreams of a sexually aroused art student unleashed in the realm of Salvador Dalí and armed with a box of crayons and stencils stolen from Jasper Johns. Wheeler uses fields of acrylic stripes to juxtapose his network of images and text, giving the mixed-media works a trippy optical effect that bolsters the surreal content, like a pop-cultural bric-a-brac cabinet viewed under the influence of psychedelics. G Gallery says these are brand-new works, though some, I swear, are about five years old. Wheeler's work is engaging, funny and strangely troubling, but I wish he'd work with a new inspirational palette — or at least start eating at new restaurants. Whether it's Sonic, Arby's or McDonald's, it's beginning to taste like the same old buns and meat. Through May 25. 301 E 11th St., 713-869-4770. — TS
"Helen Lessick: Other Arrangements" Internationally known artist Helen Lessick creates site-specific installations that riff on everyday themes, like the passing of time, and amplify their implications. She moved to Houston roughly a year ago to work as the director of civil art and design for the Houston Arts Alliance after helming similar arts advocate positions in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and Reno. For her Texas debut exhibition, Lessick created an untitled installation that, according to Barbara Davis Gallery, explores the Texas night sky, but the execution is only somewhat successful in expressing that particular theme. Made up of hanging metal buckets with varying patterns of holes punched in the vessels' sides and bottoms, the work feels only halfway realized — the addition of dripping water somehow cycled through the buckets and their leak holes would be a welcome element. A series of graphic prints deconstructs architectural forms and includes a recurring motif of an unfolded house template. Lessick also offers a stack of the very same template, made of cardstock and printed on one side with a view of the Earth from the moon, and visitors may take one, "reconstruct" it, in a sense, and leave it behind. Also clever is an oval wall mirror embossed with the words "extraordinary" and "pathetic." Viewers are free to assess their reflections as one or the other. The show itself can't be assessed with either one of those descriptors, but it passes the time adequately. Through May 16. Barbara Davis Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — TS
"Javier de Villota: DeHumanization Echo" The centerpiece of this exhibition at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art is a frighteningly accurate and detailed tableau re-creating one of the most widely publicized atrocities of the Bosnian war. Spanish artist Javier de Villota, a former medical student, worked from photos of a massacre that took place 15 years ago, on February 5, 1994, in Sarajevo's open-air Markale marketplace. There, a single mortar shell killed 68 civilians and wounded 200. Ten days later, de Villota first exhibited El Mercado de la Muerte in Madrid. The installation about the Markale massacre includes exacting replicas of the dead. On a concrete platform, a wheelchair is overturned and empty, while mangled bodies of adults, a baby and a dog lie prone. Bent metal posts from the market stalls stick up from the concrete; fruit and vegetables rot on the ground, which is streaked red along with the wall behind. Using graphic and disturbing imagery in art for political effect certainly has a history in Spain — primary examples include Goya's Disasters of War and Picasso's Guernica. But in 1994 there was photographic and video documentation available. De Villota essentially created a life-size three-dimensional version of the photographs. It's skillfully crafted, but it ain't a Goya or a Picasso. Still, the timing and context of de Villota's original presentation of the work are important, and they do make a difference. When he showed El Mercado de la Muerte ten days after the actual event, de Villota didn't present his work in a gallery; he arranged his installation of bodies out in the open, on the streets of Madrid, as if it had just happened there. It was an in-your-face gesture of concern and outrage, bringing simulated carnage to the streets. Through May 17. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. — KK
"Round 30: Home. Space. Place." The latest installations at Project Row Houses focus on the idea of home and its significance to cultural identity. Some explore the Third Ward neighborhood literally, such as Gregory Michael Carter's Walk with me..., which contains a glassed-in convenience store window outfitted with an old cash register, tobacco advertisements and a tongue-in-cheek Xerox sheet of famous African-American mugshots. The window is juxtaposed against a turbulent room of maze-like patterns on the walls, English fox-hunt wallpaper and various ephemera. Lance Flowers uses his Project Row Houses turn to display his urban-iconography-inspired artwork and supplements the installation with a coat of bright orange paint, photographs and a foreboding pile of junk TVs littered with unopened bottles of cheap "champagne" — an ironic comment on the class status of urban art. Other standouts include Lisa Qualls's Spirit Level, an elegant work that divides the room with clotheslines. From them hang white garments printed with portraits of their assumed wearers. And Rashida Ferdinand's Lullaby breaks the Greenwood King house into separate spaces of color, image, text and texture that convey memories of the artist's grandmothers. Ferdinand inexplicably leaves one space blank. Perhaps it's to imply the emptiness of loss or the solace of knowing one's way home. Through June 21. 2521 Holman, 713-526-7662. — TS
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