"Elaine Bradford: The Sidereal" There are stores known for doing "artsy" window displays, but artists still come up with the best stuff. The Dallas Art Fair recently organized a series of window installations by artists in the windows of Dallas's downtown Neiman Marcus, and the Blaffer Art Museum is taking advantage of a downtown Houston window space during its upcoming renovation. Elaine Bradford's "The Sidereal" is the first offering in the Blaffer's "Window into Houston" series. The installation builds on the artist's ongoing "Museum of Unnatural History," a faux natural history museum filled with imaginary animals created by Bradford using crochet and actual dead (taxidermied) stuff. "The Sidereal" fills two display windows, one with mutant arctic rabbits and giant "ice" stalactites and stalagmites, the other with oddball woodland creatures and fake greenery. It's a great diorama, although I miss the extra punch of the campy painted backdrops that graced Bradford's Art League "unnatural history" installation. The display windows work especially well at night — and parking is easier. Through June 22. 110 Milam, 713-743-9521. — KK
"Guns and Roses" On the surface, the new show at Anya Tish Gallery recalls happy childhood memories and tooth-rotting sweetness. But there's dark commentary lurking in the work of Texas artists Shannon Cannings and Ann Wood. Cannings paints toy guns with an emphasis on their bright colors and plastic details, like the "wood grain" in the stock of a green water-machine-gun. She paints each toy firearm as if it were mounted on a wall, capturing the glowing shadows cast through colored plastic. One work, Cross Your Heart, is an image of an Annie Oakley-style rifle with pink stock and shoulder strap. The way the strap hangs from the gun casts a shadow resembling the shape of a cross-your-heart bra. The seven pieces are all beautiful, and they challenge our recollections of childhood fun with the argument that they teach kids to be violent. Wood's installation Snare is an intensely bright scene of bunnies, a tall cake and roses coated in frosting-like substances and what looks like poured pink taffy. The bunnies are taxidermy forms, and the pink "taffy" is actually poured foam. Wood translates the sweet, pleasing attraction of candy and dessert into an image of suffering and encroaching death. It recalls pictures of birds covered in oil from the BP disaster. Emotionally, it sweeps you from enjoying its silliness to seeing it as a symbol of the ultimate humiliation of nature. Through June 4. Anya Tish Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299. — TS
"Jackie Gendel: Fables in Slang" Houston-born Jackie Gendel paints portraits and people in a style that recalls a number of late-19th-early-20th-century French painters, but with cranked-up distortion. Her people are constantly obscured by a surface abstraction, or they retreat into the background, virtually faceless with the furniture and decor surrounding them. Chaty and Marthe in the Kitchen is perhaps this series's most striking work, and it demonstrates Gendel's anti-narrative approach. Two women sit at a kitchen table looking epically bored. Their faces and hair are the most detailed parts of the painting, which is brilliantly colored as well. In fact, its brightness is in direct opposition to the malaise depicted. In Calloway, a 1930s-era man is surrounded by wild abstraction that is threatening to envelop him. In a trio of small gouache-on-paper works, Gendel's subjects turn noir-ish, suggesting an unknowable evil in the characters' black-and-white eyes. Field of Mars III looks like a scene out of Greek Myth updated by the presence of a woman in a 1980s outfit and hairdo. Gendel challenges our notions of art and history with mischievous and dreamy flourishes. Through July 2. Bryan Miller Gallery, 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. — TS
"Measured: Lawndale Artist Studio Program Exhibition" Lawndale's Artist Studio Program provides resources and unrestrained studio space for three projects each year, chosen from a call for entries, and the current main gallery group show is displaying the results. Daniel McFarlane presents a series of acrylic paintings on panels that depict wooden, geometric 3D shapes augmented with abstract, blobby matter. The works flip the properties of organic and synthetic materials, suggesting bizarro-world trees and parasitic organisms. Next, Anthony Thompson Shumate delivers a show of 1:1 scale drawings of "tools," like a drill, a car, clothes and a vibrator. At first look, they appear to be studies or unfinished exploratory drafts, but taken together they form a strange kind of blueprint for living — like a character study in a Hollywood movie. Next stop: corporate branding. Third, Mary Magsamen and Stephan Hillerbrand's photo and video series is a collection of wild household imagery. The photos take titles from Greek myth, like Diana, an image of Magsamen holding a black Labrador dog in her arms, and Pandora, with several human limbs emerging from a cardboard file-cabinet box. The videos are the stars of the show. In DIY Loveseat, Magsamen and Hillerbrand pose indoors on a loveseat with a strangely sagging middle. Then, we see how it got that way. Magsamen used a chainsaw to cut the middle section out of a couch, after which Hillerbrand used duct tape to fuse the two remaining sections together. The actual sections are displayed in the gallery. In Elevated Landscape, Hillerbrand does a little nighttime landscaping on his lawn, mowing, watering, fertilizing and leaf-blowing a section of grass. Magsamen arrives, backing her Mini Cooper up to an elevated platform — the "lawn" is actually atop the platform. It's an odd jump; I thought the video needed a shot that zoomed out to reveal the platform. But what happens next takes "cutting the lawn" to a hilarious level. On view through June 4. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — TS
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"Nathan Green: Fill the Sky" Art Palace is one of our favorite galleries, but we just don't get Nathan Green's current show "Fill the Sky." Some of the 25 abstract, mixed-media works score on their own, like Gradients, a conglomeration of black-and-white cylindrical forms that has a real sense of action in its composition, and Migration, a similar grouping of shapes with frenetic energy. But taken together, it feels like too much is on display. Abstract works can veer into embarrassing, this-is-bullshit territory, and some of the stuff here unfortunately does. It should have been edited. One wall is cluttered with paintings of various sizes with no discernible method or structure in its installation. Another entire gallery wall has been painted in columns of gradient green and blue stripes with a few paintings hung to it. It looks good, and it's a puzzling technique, but there's a messiness to it (as well as in several other works) that gives off a slapdash, kindergarten-chic vibe. It's a strange hybrid of a conceptual installation and an everything-must-go blowout sale. Through July 2. 3913 Main, 281-501-2964. — TS
"Voodoo Pop: Mary Hayslip and Trey Speegle" This retrospective exhibition embodies three decades of Trey Speegle and Mary Hayslip's friendship, featuring items from their personal collections, paintings, collage, textile works, bits of correspondence and photos. After bonding with Hayslip in late-'70s Houston, Speegle relocated to NYC in 1980, but he and Hayslip remained friends for over 30 years while continuing their art careers. Speegle's work dominates the show, especially selections of his poppy paint-by-numbers pieces, which re-purpose vintage paint-by-numbers canvases to imagine hidden messages embedded within them — like You Who (self portrait), an image of a clown with the title text spelled in the exposed numbered outlines of the painting's surface. Other standout work includes Gold Carolyn, a portrait of Carolyn Farb from a 1981 Speegle show called "RePOP," which was a kind of Warholian take on Houston celebs including Marvin Zindler, Lynn Wyatt and Dominique de Menil; Hayslip's laminated magazine-paper flowers; and a display case with postcards, small sculptures, jewelry and photos of the two artists during the '80s. It's a sweet selection of artifacts from a friendship in art. Through June 24. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — TS
"Wendy Wagner: Once Uponse a Time in the Land of O-Poppida" 2008 Hunting Prize winner Wendy Wagner makes fantasy-world imagery from the childlike realm of puppy dogs and cartoons. In early 2008, she presented her animated short The Eternity of a Second in DiverseWorks' "Flicker Fusion" video exhibit. That video (and others), as well as framed still images from Eternity and sculpture based on its content, appears in this show alongside a series of recent mixed-media paintings depicting children and animals. Sgt. Rock is a portrait of the artist's stepson posing with a Gatorade squirt bottle, binoculars hanging around his neck, wearing sunglasses with a large blue-glass bowl over his head like a helmet. It's as if he's prepared to hike the apple-green mountain range in the background. Me-and-ma Brownie Bling is another humorous portrait. A little blond girl in Brownie uniform smiles for her picture, revealing a gold front tooth. As in Sgt. Rock and Wagner's other child portraits on display, her subjects are surrounded by a rusticated comic-book-style border, adding a heightened mythical quality to the imagery. Through June 9. Darke Gallery, 320 Detering, 713-542-3802. — TS
"The Whole World Was Watching: Civil Rights-Era Photographs" This selection of photography from a collection given to the Menil by Edmund Carpenter and Adelaide de Menil documents the civil rights struggles of the late '50s and early '60s, when the exhibit's title phrase, "The Whole World Was Watching," was adopted by activists and political groups as a rallying cry for change. It refers, of course, to the advent of television and the ability for wide dissemination of images depicting racial injustice in the southern United States. The exhibit documents the signs of segregation, the presence of the KKK, battles with law enforcement and the cruel practice of blasting protesters with water from high-pressure fire hoses, and it also displays the nonviolent marches, moments of solidarity and other images that embody the race relations of the times, as seen through the lenses of six photographers. Bruce L. Davidson's Woman being held by two policemen captures a protester being detained in front of a movie theater whose marquee adds intriguing commentary to the image. A young African-American man in whiteface, with the word "vote" written across his forehead, marches in another photo by Davidson. And Martin Luther King Jr. happily shakes hands with women from his car in Leonard Freed's image Maryland. They're just a few of the extraordinary images on display. Through September 25. Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS