Capsule Art Reviews: "Anthony Thompson Shumate: Cocky", "Brent Green: Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then", "Dynasty and Divinity", "Eduardo Gil: Extra", "Emilio Perez: More Reasons Than One"

"Anthony Thompson Shumate: Cocky" When you're an artist, people offer you all kinds of comments on and advice about your work, something they would never think of doing to, say, an accountant. Anthony Thompson Shumate decided to use those remarks as fodder for his show "Cocky" at Barbara Davis Gallery. Shumate created a host of works based on and titled after specific quotes, like "Why don't you get a real job?" or "Why can't you paint a fucking rooster? Everybody likes roosters!" or "Can't you make it bigger? How does it look in red?" Until you know this, you'll undoubtedly wonder why stuff like a tie, roosters and a urinal are together in one show. The coolest object — "You know I've seen a piece like that before. Do you even know art history?" — is the urinal. Rather than just signing it, à la Duchamp, Shumate "pimped his urinal" with a thick coat of automotive paint and pin striping. How cocky. Through December 31. 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — KK

"Brent Green: Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then" Kentucky hardware store clerk Leonard Wood was a man obsessed. When his wife Mary was diagnosed with cancer, he began building, trying to turn their house into a kind of machine to heal her. She died anyway. But Wood kept on building for the next 20 years, maybe hoping to bring her back or maybe trying to find a way to communicate with her. Brent Green is also a man obsessed. In the process of making his film Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, which tells the story of Leonard Wood and his wife, Green built a life-size recreation of Wood's eccentric house, in his own backyard. The film has a wonky, stop-motion, homemade aesthetic that ties in perfectly to Wood's story. It's an homage to love, faith and sheer determination. You can imagine this handyman kind of guy, frustrated that he couldn't reach in and fix what was wrong with his wife, trying to build her back to health by crafting a structure that he believed could channel divine forces to heal her. The 75-minute video plays on several screens in the DiverseWorks galleries. Green also has a fanciful cardboard cutout installation as part of the exhibition. As with most gallery-screened video, the acoustics aren't ideal, but it's worth the effort. This is a really wonderful film, and it closes this Saturday. Hurry! Through December 18. 1117 East Fwy., 713-223-8346. — KK

"Dynasty and Divinity" When you walk into this exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, it feels like you are walking into a crowd of people. It's filled with the faces of distinct but long dead individuals, depicted in striking works of stone, terracotta and metal from the ninth through 15th centuries. First among the standout works on view are the exhibition's cast-copper-alloy heads representing the rulers of Ife, which are essentially family portraits. The cast-metal heads are highly naturalistic; you can tell that each was modeled after a specific person. They are, however, depicted in a way that idealizes them as rulers; neither fierce nor haughty, they emanate a calm, elegant serenity. Their smooth features are composed, with their eyes looking forward, their mouths closed. The heads were cast using a lost wax process which allows a sculptor to create a one-off metal cast. Basically, a clay core would be covered with a thick layer of wax that would then be sculpted. A clay shell would be created over the wax and heated. The wax would melt out and bronze would be poured in its place. When these stunning works came to European attention in the early 20th century, the initial response of some scholars was that they simply couldn't be African; there had to be some Greek influence. Thankfully, the museum world is past that kind of blatant racism. But non-Western art is still viewed through a deeply embedded Eurocentric lens. The MFAH press release stated, "These sculptures have been compared to the finest portraits of the classical ancient world of Greece and Rome," and MFAH director Peter Marzio is quoted as saying, "Remarkably, the Ife people were creating these sculptures before the European Renaissance began." For such an important show, the installation at the MFAH is lackluster. All of the pieces are stuck in one big, sterile white room — it not only feels like a crowd, it is crowded. This is a wonderful show and a coup for the museum. I just wish it got a little more of the royal treatment. Through January 9, 2011. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. – KK

"Eduardo Gil: Extra" In old newsreels, newspapers would dramatically spin into the frame, their headlines announcing an event in 144-point type. This convention inspired the work in Eduardo Gil's show "Extra" at Sicardi Gallery. Mounted high along the walls in the gallery are a series of flat-mounted newspapers with headlines proclaiming war. The newspaper panels are attached to fan motors and apparently spin alternately and intermittently. It sounds like a cool effect, but they were all still when I visited the gallery — apparently there were issues with some of the mechanisms becoming unbalanced. Also part of the show is a spiraling wooden structure viewers walk into in the middle of a gallery. It's papered with copies of newspapers announcing the end of American conflicts from the Revolutionary War in 1782 to the Gulf War in 1992, arranged chronologically as you move through the spiral. The papers are bordered by the repeating headlines: "WAR ENDS." The material is interesting, but the execution of the piece feels a little too much like a high school class project. The show as a whole, however, is a potent visual reminder of the ebb and flow of human conflict as well as the changing face of war. An unequivocal headline like "WAR ENDS" seems like a thing of the past. Through December 23. 2246 Richmond, 713-529-1313. — KK

"Emilio Perez: More Reasons Than One" and "Myungjin Song: Being in Folding" It's dueling painters at CTRL Gallery, with work by Emilio Perez in one half of the gallery and Myungjin Song in the other. Working in slightly muddied, gray and mauve hues, Perez offers up ironic gestural abstractions. At first glance, they appear to be a lot of bravura brushstrokes, until you see that each stroke is self-consciously outlined. Perez has taped them off, creating a stylized effect that is reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein's brush-stroke paintings, albeit on a much smaller and more densely packed scale. They're nice, but the strategy and color scheme can start to feel repetitive when shown in large numbers. Meanwhile, Song is working the red-green complementary colors with strangely visceral paintings. Dark-green surfaces, pinched, folded, dented or tied, read as fabric — and flesh; red blood cell-like dots are scattered and spattered across them. In other works, pinkish goo seems to ooze out from an unknown source, creating intestine-like forms. As admittedly icky as the descriptions sound, there is something elegant and riveting about the work. December 23. 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. — KK

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