Capsule Art Reviews: "Casual Encounters," "Literally Figurative," "New Art in Austin: 20 to Watch"
"Casual Encounters" Named after the infamous Craigslist category, this show explores the dangerous, ugly and surreal world that exists just on the other side of that risky line one crosses when placing or answering such an ad. From Derek Albeck's flawless graphite portraits of hapless, stoned fools to Will Boone's large-scale Xerox prints of actual dead bodies, there's a creepy, desperate cautionary tale being played out in Domy Books's little gallery. Patrick Griffin's documentary photographs capture street scenes of graffiti and altered signage in which the urban environment appears to display its abused soul. French contributes a series of prints depicting iconography in the medieval/heavy-metal vein, the kind of content that might attract one's wildest dream/worst nightmare casual encounter on Craigslist. Local street artist Give Up had a hand in putting this show together. His darkly haunting, nihilistic imagery is here, too, but I still wish he'd contribute something more substantial to gallery shows instead of the same posters you see on the street. Maybe I should just give up. Through June 6. Domy Books, 1709 Westheimer, 713-523-3669. — TS
"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. Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — TS
"New Art in Austin: 20 to Watch" DiverseWorks Artspace is hosting the third edition of the Austin Museum of Art's triennial series "New Art in Austin: 20 to Watch," and the results are definitely encouraging. For a Hill Country region known more for fine craft than fine art, it's especially surprising to see so many concept-oriented installation works rather than single-media pieces. Buster Graybill's Come Along Johnny, an upended "Jon boat" that juts out from the gallery wall, displays perhaps the most regionally influenced commentary in the show. A twisted, mangled mess of inflated inner tubes bulge from the boat, suspended by a yellow strap. Inspired by trips from New Braunfels to Austin, the work cleverly reimagines materials to create a wholly different and bizarre function from its compositional elements. There's more wonderful work here by Alyson Fox, Jill Pangallo, Sarah Sudhoff, Raymond Uhlir, Yoon Cho and Shawn Smith, among others, but the standout piece goes to Kurt Mueller, who delivers the most emotionally stirring installation of the lot. For American Dream, Mueller sets up a familiar assemblage of components: microphone, amplifier and television screen. Riffing on American Idol and karaoke culture, Mueller stripped Martin Luther King Jr.'s voice from the famous "I Have a Dream" speech, leaving only the cheers of the crowd audible. And instead of song lyrics flashing on the screen, we get the full text of the speech, highlighted bouncing-ball style across the words as we're meant to speak it. It's a fantastically simple and elegant work, a fitting statement for the show as a whole and a fine representation of Austin's contribution to the Texas visual art stage. Through June 13. 1117 East Fwy., 713-223-8346. — TS
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