"The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute" These days, Impressionist exhibitions are the art museum version of the ballet The Nutcracker: frothy and beautiful, if a little overexposed, and sure to pack 'em in at almost any price. Even though we've already had at least six or eight Impressionist shows during the past ten years, who could fail to love yet another one that includes 70-plus paintings by Renoir, Monet, Pissarro and Degas, among others? That's what the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is offering with "The Age of Impressionism." This isn't a star vehicle so much as an ensemble piece; these aren't the paintings that make the textbooks. They are, rather, a tribute to the taste of a collecting couple with very good eyes for art and lots of resources (that is to say, money) who were buying paintings to enhance their own lives at home rather than to dazzle tourists in museums. Frankly, unless you're something of an art specialist, you may have trouble remembering many of the paintings individually a day or two after you've seen the show. But if you're lucky enough to see it under the right conditions (not too many other viewers, the right kind of light that so often suffuses the galleries in the Rafael Moneo-designed Beck Building at MFAH, at a time when you're really in an art-viewing mood), you're almost certain to remember the deeply satisfying feeling that comes from standing in galleries surrounded by beautiful, harmonious paintings. Not at all a bad memory to take away from any exhibition. Extended through May 4. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — RT
"BoundUnbound" Matt Devine works with small metal pieces assembled to form complex, abstract patterns, while Christy Lee Rogers uses experimental photographic techniques to achieve colorful results, often combining the abstract with the representational. Devine's Undercurrent is composed of shiny blue metal tapes, far too many to count, put together to form a circular presence (60" round, 6"deep) of power and authority. I admired his La Luz (60"x64"x6"deep), composed of brown metal tapes, here spaced openly so that the shadows of the tapes against the wall became part of the sculpture. There are smaller sculptures: Circle Gets the Square (36"x36"x6"deep) uses reflective steel tapes to generate a sense of futurity, a shiny utopian dream. There is one smaller sculpture, Blockhaus (16"x16"x6"), with dark brown tapes, too small to invite entry into its world, but retaining a sense of self. Devine's work has the sheen of sophistication and the polish of caring craftsmanship, and the results are graceful to contemplate. Rogers is a photographer who uses water and experimental techniques to create works of vivid splashes of color against darker backgrounds. She can do conventional work beautifully, as her Carnadina (50"x37") demonstrates, with a female nude echoing a fin-de-siècle aura. But this is not where her passion lies — the exhibition centers on her more abstract visions, sometimes alloyed with recognizable human elements. Nightingale (60"x48") uses splashes of color — pale blue, pale green, pale yellow, strong red — to suggest movement, delicacy and romance. Birth of a Star (41"x61") employs yellow, red and blue highlights to create a striking composition. The Life I Recognize (45"x60") uses white splashes that seem to pulse with emerging life. Rogers's works are stunningly attractive and often powerful. Through April 26. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Laura Rathe Fine Art, 2707 Colquitt, 713-527-7700 or www.laurarathe.com. — JJT
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Elena Wortham, Pia Wortham and Judith Freedman D.M. Allison Gallery is showing Elena Wortham, who was raised in Mexico City but has lived in Houston since 1975. Wortham works in mixed media; the current exhibition features striking collages with a dominant central image. Demolition 2 (35"x43") shows a tall, slender, multilayered brown-and-white building rising from the detritus of a garbage dump, with walls missing and the insides trashed. This image seems to tower above us, daring us to admire it. Demolition 1 (35"x43") shows a series of similarly unappetizing open-walled rooms, stacked and outlined here against a background of trash instead of sky, inviting us to share a contemporary reality. One work, Wars; Refugees (approximately 18" high by 36" wide), is ambitious and successful. It has 49 small ceramic figures placed against a metal hillscape, as though trudging from war into an unknown destination. Their faces are expressive, and sing of loneliness, isolation and bewildered humanity. Wortham's daughter, Pia Wortham, is also being shown. She has some lighthearted work, and one life-size two-dimensional cut-out, El Bailarín Español (48"x80"), has a jester whose hinged arms, legs and head move, so he can be arranged in a variety of positions. Pia Wortham also created five four-page "booklets" — I especially liked Illusion, with a jester-puppet collage that had verve and wit. The third artist being shown, Judith Freedman, is powerful and compelling. Girl in the Cage (approximately 14"x12") has a white clay figure, kneeling with head bowed, trapped inside a semi-hemisphere prison of rattan, an eloquent comment on what can be the position of women. The Web I Wove (approximately 18"x18"x18") has a clay female head inside a weblike cube of metal. The stony eyes suggest regret, and the pursed, off-kilter mouth indicates loss, leaving one to wonder about getting one's own way. Through April 26. 2709 Colquitt, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, 832-607-4378. — JJT