"Contemporary Conversations: Robert Ryman, 1976" It's difficult to look at a Robert Ryman painting without an initial feeling of being cheated. The artist has limited himself almost entirely to the color white as a way of boiling down the essence of painting to a reduced process, the very act of laying paint on a surface and subsequently installing the work in a viewing space. Ryman once said, "There is never a question of what to paint, but only how to paint." To many viewers, Ryman comes off as a snake-oil salesman — selling pennies for a dollar. It's somewhat infuriating, and that's exactly the feeling you should have, but you should also keep looking. Once you've broken through that exterior facade, Ryman's work begins to release rewards. These three 1976 specimens, part of the Menil Collection's "Contemporary Conversations" series, are very stark examples of Ryman's oeuvre; all-white panels of pastel and oil paint on Plexiglas and blue Acrylivin are fixed to the wall with steel fasteners and bolts. It's the most distilled version of performance art ever, and the "I don't get it" exhibit of the year. And in a weird way, it's kind of thrilling. On view through February 17, 2008. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS
"Jerry Kearns: Between Heaven and Earth" After the 2001 terrorist attacks, artist Jerry Kearns began a series of works inspired by the blue sky that was the backdrop of the twin towers collapsing. "Between Heaven and Earth" captures the confusion and conflict of that day, as well as the absurdities and paradoxes it has spawned. Kearns creates digital collages made up of Islamic mosque architecture and images from weightlifting magazines, pornography and anatomy books, and he superimposes them onto canvas. He then fills the negative space with acrylic blue. The results are dynamic, funny and troubling images with recurring motifs of violence, sex and infant-operated weaponry. A subtitle for the entire series could be "The Sky Is Falling." Also included are religious-themed works like Ripped, an image of a bodybuilder with the head of Jesus (complete with crown of thorns and halo) flexing his muscles and glancing heavenward to a bit of text that reads "YOU WANT THE TRUTH...WHY?" And then there are utterly ridiculous pieces like Burger King, a rendering of someone who looks like Johnny Knoxville surrounded by floating cheeseburgers (obviously Wendy's, though). Through January 5, 2008. Deborah Colton Gallery, 2500 Summer, 713-864-2364. — TS
"Contemporary Conversations: Robert Ryman, 1976"
"Little Known Facts" For "Little Known Facts" at Lawndale Art Center, curator Michael Guidry convinced artists to let him borrow and exhibit their prized collections of stuff. The participating artists did that and more — they also threw in some of their actual artwork. The results are pretty interesting. David Aylsworth, he of the bold abstract brush-stroke paintings, has a really funny collection of old homoerotic literature — there are muscle mags from the '50s and dime novels from the '60s with cheesy beefcake covers. (This kinda puts a new spin on Aylsworth's recent show at Inman Gallery, "A Mixture of Catholicism, Pasta, and Pornography," as well as his pairing with Tom of Finland.) Andrew Groocock has a phenomenal collection of 300, count 'em, 300 toy robots that are reminiscent of his angular and segmented sculptures. Meanwhile, Gabriela Trzebinski's work, along with her collection of clippings, presents a fascinating and poignant insider's take on her hometown of Nairobi, Kenya, and her experience as a white African in America. Through January 5, 2008. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — KK
"Ryan Geiger: Secret Garden" The otherworldly aviary of Ryan Geiger's imagination is rendered in "Secret Garden," an impressive exhibit currently on view at Rudolph Projects/ArtScan Gallery. These surreal paintings find Geiger working in a brilliantly efficient mode and honing his considerable skill. Recurring motifs (birds and trees excluded) include five-pointed stars, clouds and floating, conical rock formations. The environments evoke the background landscapes in Warner Bros. cartoons — zany and exaggerated. Text sometimes augments the imagery as a self-referential comment on a theme. Memory Is Long employs curved lines and an arrow to mark the flight paths of birds exiting an ordinary birdhouse hanging from a tree branch. In a Magritte-inspired touch, the tree trunk's bark has been exposed to reveal a red-brick core. Empty speech balloons sometimes appear next to birds, as in Oracle, a painting influenced by Greek myth. Of course, bird speech is unprintable, but Geiger solves that issue by manipulating the balloon somehow, painting it as if it were dripping or imbued with a foul substance, communicating an emotional state. And don't miss Geiger's foray into sculpture, a huge cardinal named Earnest, with whom you may have your photo taken in various scenes of Hitchcock-inspired mayhem. Through December 29. 1836 Richmond, 713-807-1836. — TS