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Capsule Art Reviews: "Book Report" "Helen Altman: Half-Life" "Mary McCleary: A Survey 1996-2011" "Raimund Girke 1930-2002" "Working in the Abstract: Rethinking the Literal" "Leigh Anne Lester: Beautiful Freaks/Nature's Bastards" "Seth Mittag: We're Still

"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

"Helen Altman: Half-Life" It's like she's psychic. The nature and fire imagery in Helen Altman's show, done way before the rash of Texas wildfires, was nothing if not prescient.  Of course, it's not like it came out of nowhere — Altman has an abiding interest in the natural world, and she's done drawings with blowtorches before, as well as building sculptures from glowing fake fireplace logs. I've never been that big on Altman's 2D work, but when she starts bringing in the 3D elements, things get interesting. In the back gallery at Moody, Line of Fire (2011), Altman's wall painting of a beaver dam, has a stand of stripped-down trees in its background. Flickering, flame-like Christmas lights are attached to the wall and clustered over the painted trunks, seemingly setting them alight. Meanwhile, Two Deer Reflecting (2011) is a gorgeously black-humored work, a vintage lamp with a colorfully hokey forest scene on its shade. It's one of those cylindrical lamps with a rotating insert, which Altman altered by cutting out tiny flame shapes. As the inner cylinder rotates against the light, fire seems to rage through the tranquil forest. Vinyl letters on the wall behind it read: Gordon said to Enid, "Living well is the best revenge."Enid looked up and replied, "Burning down their cabin is a close second." Through October 15. Moody Gallery, 2815 Colquitt St., 713-526-9911. — KK

"Mary McCleary: A Survey 1996-2011" The Art League Houston named Mary McCleary Artist of the Year and is presenting a jam-packed 15-year survey of her work. McCleary is widely known for her collages, which incorporate "paint, paper, rag board, foil, glitter, sticks, wire, mirrors, pencils, nails, glass, painted toothpicks, string, leather, lint, small plastic toys and other objects" to create figurative images. The face in a portrait might be comprised of hundreds of multicolored fragments of glass, while the background roils with bits of painted string. The work is incredibly well-crafted and wonderfully obsessive, but there is something missing. Even allowing for the 15-year time span, there isn't a consistency of vision in the work, only a consistency of materials. Some of McCleary's imagery seems as if it is trying to have an edge — a living-room scene of a white, upper-middle-class family might have some dysfunctional back-story, a work depicting boys with sticks may be trying for Lord of the Flies overtones — while others, like a natural history museum-esque arrangement of moths, go in other directions. The materials trump the figurative imagery and whatever content McCleary is trying to imbue it with. The most successful work in the show is the artist's 2006 Sehnsucht, a giant floral arrangement that calls to mind 17th-century Dutch still lifes but is fascinatingly comprised of tiny beads, snippets of paper and string. Here you aren't wondering what the hell the relationship might be between the imagery and the materials. It's exuberantly and masterfully decorative but feels less craftsy. It's much more successful as a fine art piece than many of the works with seemingly more "important" subject matter. Through November 12. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-4053. — KK

"Raimund Girke 1930-2002" Raimund Girke made deceptively simple paintings — the kind of art that people think their kids could do. With determined gesture and controlled expression, the late German artist dragged long, brushy strokes across his canvases. It's pretty masterful work; the marks are forceful and unwavering, the paintings dominated by strokes of white over dark grounds. Paintings like this can succeed or fail in ways that are incredibly difficult to categorize, as illustrated by the show itself, which features a couple near-misses shown with some standout works. Die Kraft der Vertikalen (1997) has an amazing presence and is the centerpiece of the show. It's a great rush of frosty white strokes over and intermingled with dark blue-black ones. Don't try this at home. Through October 29. Gallery Sonja Roesch, 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424. — KK

"Working in the Abstract: Rethinking the Literal" This show acts as a kind of teaching tool, so it's appropriate that it's on display at the Glassell School of Art. It's a primer on different styles of abstract painting, and it features some local heavy hitters of abstraction. The styles range from the liquid and organic compositions of Michael Kennaugh and Terrell James to the structured and geometrically inspired works of Pat Colville and Susie Rosmarin. The show's good for cleansing your mood palate; it's a way to exorcise those analytical demons and distill your surroundings down to color, shape and pattern. Rosmarin's meditative grids are consistently sweet eye candy, illuminated and flickering in an op-art-ish way. And Brooke Masterson Stroud's mysterious black paintings mix hard lines with hazy, unknowable open space. The exhibit succeeds in displaying the potential for emotion in abstraction. Through November 28. The Glassell School of Art, 5101 Montrose, 713-639-7300. — TS

"Leigh Anne Lester: Beautiful Freaks/Nature's Bastards" Leigh Anne Lester, winner of the $50,000 2011 Hunting Art Prize, presents her botanically bizarre work in "Beautiful Freaks/Nature's Bastards." At first glance, Lester's drawings look like some sort of 18th-century botanical drawings, the kind oft-reproduced for traditional home décor. But Lester's delicate work lures you in with its fragile beauty, which is much more compelling than the run-of-the mill botanical illustration. Then you realize there is something really, really wrong going on here. Lester is offering up work in a variety of materials, everything from drawings done with carbon paper to embroidery to plant sculptures sewn from clear plastic vinyl. (I'd love these even more if the plastic was colored and creepier.) The graphite on paper Large Turf (after Albrecht Durer) (2010) is the show's standout, drawing you in to its layers and layers of detail. Stalks sprout leaves and buds and spines and nuts, roots network with ominous alien nodules. If you're myopic, take off your glasses and inspect the infinitesimally gnarled, prickly or furry surfaces of the plant, it'll make you shudder. It is not of this world. Through October 14. Houston Arts Alliance's space125gallery, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-9330. – KK

"Seth Mittag: We're Still Here..." Seth Mittag got his MFA from the University of Houston in 2003. He just returned to Houston after three years in New York doing Claymation for the likes of Michael Eisner, Moveon.org, and Nickelodeon. Now Mittag is channeling those skills into his art. His installation behind the glass wall of the EMERGEncy Room Gallery in Rice University's art building looks camera-ready. It's a not-unfamiliar scene of rural tragedy, a single-wide trailer after a tornado. All of the doll-size details are perfect, with the wracked trailer frame lodged in the branches of a tree, its walls erupting with pink insulation and spewing plywood and two-by-fours. A window-unit air conditioner lies on the ground beneath it, and the tree branches are festooned with a pair of Jockey shorts and a short sleeve western-style work shirt. Peering inside the house, you can see a deer head torn from the wall and lying on a collapsing counter. Then you notice the pair of shoes, er, feet in the living room. They belong to a man in a T-shirt and jeans obstinately occupying an easy chair, his feet propped up on a cinder block. Squinting into the window of the bedroom, you can barely make out a small, blond-haired boy in overalls, lying on a mattress. He stares up at the ceiling in shock or in a daydream. You can't tell which, but the scene is bursting with possible narratives. I hope it finds its way into a Mittag film as well. Through October 27. The EMERGEncy Room Gallery, Rice University Campus, 6100 Main, Sewall Hall, 4th Floor. Closing reception: 7 to 10 p.m. October 27. – KK


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