"Collections: Annual HSPVA Juried Show" This popular annual exhibit is an interesting look at the up-and-coming artists at Texas's premier arts magnet school. The works span a broad range of media and technique (painting, sculpture, photography, collage, printmaking, drawing, mixed media, Photoshop), and there's terrific skill on display, but nothing particularly risky or provocative in terms of concept or content. A handful of artists show signs of future brilliance: Soon-to-be sophomore Hazel Fricke's Deep Waters is a deftly drawn graphic image of a mermaid; recent grads Adrienne Duncan, Hillary Henderson and Gray Crawford deliver nice work in mixed media, Photoshop and abstract drawing, respectively. Jesus Hinojosa's Expendable Youth is perhaps the show's standout piece. The black-and-white silkscreen print of a young boy displaying a strange wound or gash in his chest scores for its dramatic high contrast and mysterious vibe. Through August 29. Jung Center of Houston, 5200 Montrose, 713-524-8253. – TS
"Crafting Live(s): 10 Years of Artists-In-Residence" The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft celebrates its ten-year anniversary with this show, an alumni exhibition of its Artist Residency Program. Approximately 35 former residents participated, creating new works based on their level of artistry today, and the results are impressive. Much of the work on display contains craft elements, like Elaine Bradford's ubiquitous, crocheted taxidermy (she contributes the stunning Golden Sparkle In His Eye, a horned beast encased in a striped balaclava/sweater), but these "crafts" definitely cross over into contemporary art. Edward Lane McCartney's Cocktails Anyone...? is an amusing "necklace" made from plastic champagne glasses, brass, copper, steel and sterling chain — it would look ideal around the neck of Lady Gaga. The Imaginary Children, by Bethany Rusen, is a scary trio of elongated, ghostly-white forms that look like big, mutated bones. Another standout is Darryl Lauster's Runners Up Presidential Plate Series, a set of hand-cast porcelain transferware featuring the portraits of presidential campaign losers from John Breckinridge to John McCain. It's a collection an irony-loving grandmother could love. Overall, the exhibit is a terrific testimony to the Craft Center's young, but already substantial, legacy. Through September 3. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — TS
"Hayden Fosdick: Paper Compounds" Hayden Fosdick's small, minimalist collage works feel right at home on the walls of downtown urban boutique The Tipping Point. The little cut-and-paste jobs, utilizing imagery and paper from a collection of old books the artist inherited from his late father, look like tiny wheat-paste street-art works. Most contain only two or three image components, combined to create a simple yet visually compelling hybrid. Fosdick slips up occasionally, but only because he tries, perhaps, to keep it simple, and some of his juxtapositions lack an organic connection. In other words, some pieces feel unfinished. But there's much to enjoy in this show, like an ear inserted into an incomplete female face, where the earlobe is transformed into the end of a stuck-out tongue; and one in which the upper torso of a woman doing a workout routine springs from the funnel of a tornado. Another plus: The price is right. Most of these pieces can be bought for $150-$200, just a shade more expensive than that cool pair of PUMA high-tops on the shelf. Through October 15. 1212 Main, 713-655-0443. — TS
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Marc Swanson: The Second Story This exhibit's title, "The Second Story," suggests that there was indeed a first story, a previous narrative — that this show is in effect a sequel. Or it references a San Francisco gay bar by the same name. Both are true. Viewers familiar with the artist Marc Swanson who are clued in to his gay-culture (specifically ball culture) references, may walk away from the show smugly satisfied, feeling as if they'd received a secret message. But the work is also enjoyable as a series of contemporary memorials: the "second story" of a life. Immediately visible upon entrance is a turtle shell encrusted with rhinestones (Swanson is known for his taxidermied deer heads covered in crystals), a reference to a character in the 19th-century novel Against Nature, who sets gemstones in his pet tortoise's shell, and the extra weight kills the animal. Other works are arrangements of items, chains, fabric and photos, boxed and hung like shrines. One piece is a kind of stacked totem displaying a man's portrait; it includes a little shelf where you might place a candle. Overall the show comes off as a highly personal set of works, and viewers' personal histories will determine the degree to which its symbolic content connects. But even without a reference library, the show emits a strong emotional charge. Through October 9, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — TS
"Mitch Dobrowner: New Work" If you've ever felt the eerie calm before a funnel cloud ravages a row of houses just a block away, or braced yourself while the offshore hurricane creeps toward landfall, you'll appreciate the new batch of spectacular photographs by Mitch Dobrowner currently on display at John Cleary Gallery. Dobrowner's hero is Ansel Adams, and he photographs a lot of mountain scenes in the Southwest and California. It's pretty stuff — placid, contemplative. But Dobrowner's storm photography is even better for its sense of action and impending violence. He captures mythological cloud formations in Tornado Alley, some resembling the special-effects storms caused by the mother ships in alien-invasion movies. Dobrowner's low horizon line in a photo like Arm of God, Galacia, Kansas characterizes the storm as a supernatural entity. It isn't a new idea. The hokey movie Twister used that "finger of God" language too, but Dobrowner's distance from his storm subjects suggests a more stark and sober mood than the adrenaline-fueled hysteria of a storm chaser. For Dobrowner, the swirling wind and danger is far away. For now, we're safe. But for how long? One photo, Monsoon, Lordsburg, New Mexico, captures a storm in the shape of a mushroom cloud, as if nature is mimicking human destruction, building up enough strength to blow us away. Through August 31. 2635 Colquitt, 713-524-5070. — TS
"R.W. Northcutt: Indigenous Genius" This exhibit comes off as an elaborate joke, as well as an intellectual treatise on the natural world's influence on building and sculpture. As a result, it's a little too busy being clever for one to completely enjoy the joke or the art. All of the "artifacts" on display come from the private collection of R.W. Northcutt, an Ohio-based professor of woodworking. Northcutt also includes a series of drawings he executed himself. Northcutt's own works are the most successful artistically, like his graph of the highly technological, unseen supports underneath beavers' dams (it's funny). But much of his "collection" relies too heavily on background story that stretches the truth pretty far, like the displayed wooden shoes made by a collaboration of woodpeckers and beavers. The collective moral of Northcutt's stories is that man has much to learn from animals that build, and we should avoid and avert our antagonism to them, which could possibly result in breaking down the human-animal communication barrier (and assure the survival of our wooden furniture). It's certainly a valuable lesson. But Northcutt's tongue-in-cheek, believe-it-or-not tales make this exhibit as much about the collector/artist's own pretensions and stunts as the content and themes posed, which isn't necessarily a bad thing — big ups to Northcutt for displaying not one but two sex toys. Yes, there is an actual "wood pecker" on display. We challenge you to find the other one. Hint: Don't think "beaver"; think "butthole." Through August 26. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — TS
"Use Your Illusion" Colton & Farb Gallery's summer group show "Use Your Illusion" takes its name from a Guns N' Roses album, out of context, to play around with the idea of reality vs. unreality. (What's with the Houston gallery scene's fandom over Axl Rose's former band, by the way? Anya Tish Gallery presented a show last May called "Guns and Roses.") Paul Horn curates this show with little rhyme or reason; he even includes some work I'd classify as dubiously appropriated and trite, but there's enough solid stuff on display to recommend it, on the merit of a handful of artists, despite its haphazard, clumsy installation. To the gallery's credit, only a few of the artists on display are actually represented by Colton & Farb. I'm a big fan of Kevin Peterson's portraits of privileged preteens captured against urban graffiti walls. It's an easy juxtaposition in cultural/class terms, but they look so cool. Here, Horn picked an image of a girl wearing a Ralph Lauren tennis suit against the brightly colored abstract background, which injects name status into Peterson's usual portraits of structure-vs.-chaos. I just wish it wasn't hung low in a narrow hallway. One could spend a half hour admiring the collection of Daniel Johnston illustrations in one room. Johnston fits utterly into Horn's theme, with his nightmarish cartoons chronicling his manic depression, as well as the strange and comic characters of his unique, pop-inspired mythos. But did Horn have to include the now overexposed photo of Kurt Cobain wearing the Johnston T-shirt? Johnston is a respected artist; he's beyond this dead-celeb "endorsement." The always-interesting Matt Messinger is well represented here, with a slew of strange combines and wildly divergent content. And Scott Burns delivers some funny sci-fi watercolors, like Folding Space from Hazzard, an image of the Spice Guild Navigator inside his chamber, from David Lynch's Dune, emerging from a cosmic cloud decked out in the Dixie flag like the General Lee. Through August 20. 2445 North Blvd., 713-869-5151. — TS