Capsule Art Reviews: "Ballast/Break," "Book Report," "International Discoveries III," "New Formations: Czech Avant-Garde Art and Modern Glass from the Roy and Mary Cullen Collection," "Toni LaSelle: Climate of the Heart: Paintings from the 1950's"
"Ballast/Break" I'm not so jazzed about the 2D works in Alexis Granwell and Carrie Scanga's "Ballast/Break" in Lawndale Art Center's project space, but there is some pretty nice 3D stuff going on. There's nothing wrong with Granwell's large drypoint and monotype prints, images that look like architectural sketches for yurts. They just aren't that interesting. Granwell's sculpture, however, has much more potential. Her best work in this small show is Palimpsest and Things to Come (2011), a tall, narrow structure that takes an angular network of wire wrapped with creamy white handmade paper and props it up with a scaffolding of randomly sized one-by-twos. It's light, elegant and clunky all at the same time. Meanwhile, Scanga's little works on paper present images of house-like forms. Completely competent, just kinda dull. But when she starts using that paper to build architectural forms, the work becomes much more powerful. She creates bricks from paper and builds a short, chimney-like structure. It rests on strands of wire stretched across the gallery, seeming to float in the air. The artist printed etchings on tracing paper and then wrapped the paper around bricks. She creased the edges, removed the brick and taped the paper back together into a brick-like form. The structure is incredibly light and fragile, slowly sagging into itself under its own weight. It's a nice piece and was apparently going to be much taller, but airflow from the gallery's vent was problematic. The black-and-white image on the exhibition brochure shows an amazing floor-to-ceiling structure. I'd love to see that one as well. Through January 7. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — KK
"Book Report" As the electronic word slowly usurps the printed word, books are becoming increasingly fetishized. "Book Report," organized by Kinzelman Art Consulting in the lobby of the Bank of America building, brings together a host of book-related works. Given all the recent bank bailouts (and my personal animosity towards BoA and the jacked-up interest rate on my credit card), I found it particularly fitting that the show includes Conrad Bakker's carved and painted replica of a Penguin Classics edition of Karl Marx's Capital: Volume One, displayed in a vitrine. Other works are hung on temporary walls, including images from art duo Manual's ongoing series of book photographs. Their great homages to Josef Albers's square paintings, featuring books of different sizes and colors stacked on each, are on view. Daniela Comani offers images from her series "New Publications," in which the gender-specific titles of classic literature are tweaked — as are the viewer's assumptions. The digitally manipulated photos of slightly used paperpack covers are spot-on, and it takes more than a moment to notice Dostoyevsky's Sisters Karamazov or Ralph Ellison's Invisible Woman. Meanwhile, Darryl Lauster's cast-resin books turn reading material into dark, weighty slabs that come across like small-scale monoliths. It's an incredibly nice show and would be for any venue, let alone a bank lobby. If you work downtown, you should definitely check it out, and if you don't, it's worth the trip. Through December 29. Bank of America Center, 700 Louisiana. For information, call Kinzelman at 713-533-9923. — KK
"International Discoveries III" Fotofest's "International Discoveries" series always brings in interesting work, and this year is no exception. The standout is Romanian photographer Dana Popa, whose home country is embroiled in the sex-trafficking industry. Popa's series not Natasha captures girls and women who have escaped, as well as the families that have been left behind. According to Popa, "Natasha" is the nickname given to Eastern European prostitutes, denying them any individuality and reducing them to interchangeable objects. Popa's images manage to sensitively and empathetically capture the practice's human toll. There are women trafficked as 12-year-olds, mothers taken from their children, teenage daughters taken from their mothers. In one image, a teenage girl holds up her missing mother's favorite dress. One shows only a girl's forearm, marked with lines of self-inflicted cuts. Another is dominated by blurred wallpaper flowers and a floral bedspread, with only the top of a woman's head visible in the lower-right corner. She's cradling her head in her hands. A quote next to the image says, "My husband-to-be sold me for $2,200." Popa offers a heart-wrenching insight into a world born of poverty, cruelty and greed. Through December 22. FotoFest Headquarters, 1113 Vine St., 713-223-5522. — KK
"New Formations: Czech Avant-Garde Art and Modern Glass from the Roy and Mary Cullen Collection" Avant-garde Czech erotica, anyone? "New Formations," an assemblage of early 20th-century Czech work collected by Mary and Roy Cullen, presents some pretty wonderful things: everything from glassware to periodicals to the aforementioned erotica. And like most shows of private collections, you should visit it for the objects and glimpses of the period it contains rather than to receive a comprehensive overview. Jindrich Štyrský's 1933 text and photomontage, Emile Comes to Me in a Dream, was distributed only through the mail. One of his collages, on view in the show, illustrates why. A photo of a half-naked woman clutching a feathered fan is paired with a photo of a skeleton with its boot still on. Štyrský stuck an image of an erect penis over its pelvis. It captures the decadence bookended by the carnage of WWI and WWII. Tamer but equally impressive offerings in the show include amazing art glass from the '20s and '30s, in which Bohemian glassblowers turned their considerable skills to dramatic modern forms. Through February 5, 2012. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 5601 Main, 713-639-7300. — KK
"Toni LaSelle: Climate of the Heart: Paintings from the 1950's" I'm a sucker for Toni LaSelle's 60-year-old abstract paintings. Characterized as a pioneer of Texas Modernism, LaSelle studied with the legendary Hans Hoffman. She was a woman artist during the swaggering machismo of the abstract expressionist era and apparently one of the first Texas artists to fully immerse herself in abstraction. The wonky, angular shapes of her small paintings Climate of the Heart #4 and Climate of the Heart #5 are wonderfully engaging, as are their goofy '50s colors — blacks and grays, whites and the greens of plastic plants. They're done in Magma, this funky precursor to modern water-based acrylic paint that you had to thin with turpentine. That's a paint geek thing, but it's the kind of paint that the likes of color field artist Morris Louis used. They're good paintings, but there's also something really beautiful about the way the Magma has aged and the colors have mellowed. There are a couple slightly clunky paintings in the mix, but it's a lovely little show. LaSelle has some great pattern-heavy watercolors on view as well. Through January 8. Inman Gallery, 3901 Main, 713-526-7800. — KK
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