Capsule Art Reviews: "Anthony Thompson Shumate: Novus Ordo Seclorum," "Carlos Cruz-Diez: Crosswalk," "Literally Figurative," "Perspectives 166: Torsten Slama"

"Anthony Thompson Shumate: Novus Ordo Seclorum" Novus ordo seclorum ("New Order of the Ages") is one of those bits of Latin written on your dollar bill, as well as the title of Anthony Thompson Shumate's exhibition at Barbara Davis Gallery. The show is based on a little-known conspiracy theory — that of the Amero. The Amero is a single North American currency for America, Canada and Mexico, modeled on the Euro, that has allegedly been secretly in the works for years. Shumate has taken this idea and run with it, expertly designing the new currency and coinage. He's even had his own coins minted. Bring a buck to the gallery and slide it into Shumate's change machine for your very own Amero. And, hey, if the rumors (discredited on turn out to be true, you're ahead of the game. Through June 27. 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — KK

"Carlos Cruz-Diez: Crosswalk" You only have to drive past the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to see some of the hippest public art in Houston. The 86-year-old Carlos Cruz-Diez, a pioneer of optically kinetic art, has created an amazing street installation for the MFAH's crosswalks along Bissonnet/Binz Street. Cruz-Diez's vibrant pattern of horizontal and diagonal lines overlays Houston's potholed and eroded asphalt streets with dynamic art. It makes you wonder why we don't do this to all of our crosswalks. The artist has created street installations before, but this is his first in the United States. The Venezuelan artist's work was one of the standouts in the MFAH's landmark survey of Latin American avant-garde art, "Inverted Utopias," and is included in the current MFAH exhibition "North Looks South," so you might want to park the car and head inside. Plus, they've got great air conditioning. Through December 31. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK


"Anthony Thompson Shumate: Novus Ordo Seclorum"

"Literally Figurative" The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft consistently displays the fuzzy line between craft and fine art, and its current show is no exception. Unfortunately, the show's curator, Gwynne Rukenbrod, doesn't have anything fresh or interesting to say about the distinction. Instead, we get a shallow lesson on the importance of the human figure in art from the ancients to modern day. Hold hands, kids, we're going to the museum; don't touch anything! She ham-fistedly includes a slideshow of art-history-101 specimens, like the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's David, etc. — all that's missing is some Mozart in the background. Sans the pandering, though, what the show really conveys is the nonfunctional, strictly aesthetic end of contemporary craft, and there's some impressive work. Blanka Sperkova's wire-net figures of people and animals are beautifully executed and transcend kitsch and decor. Beth Beede's distorted human forms made from molded felt display skilled expertise matched with dry humor. And Juliellen Byrne's ceramic sculptures stand out for their deceptively innocent auras — anger, vulnerability and aggression lurk underneath their grotesquely funny and playful outward appearances. Through July 3. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — TS

"Perspectives 166: Torsten Slama" Austrian artist Torsten Slama's drawing style has its origins in the obsessive pencil sketches done by geeky adolescent boys. (You remember, the guys who designed elaborate rocket cars or painstakingly illustrated all their D&D characters.) I don't know what his high school sketchbooks looked like, but the 42-year-old Slama's work now depicts stark and ambiguous scenes. Bleak domestic and industrial structures (often with phallic tanks and towers) appear in barren landscapes — a baboon stands sentinel-like in front of one factory building. A strangely buff, bearded Sigmund Freud look-alike appears in multiple works, clothed and unclothed. The presence of "Freud" is initially amusing and then disturbing. Appearing alongside young men and boys, Freud seems more pederast than analyst. Slama's is an unsettling and painstakingly surreal world. Through August 2. The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — KK


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