Capsule Art Reviews: "Escapism," "Hate Expo," "John Sonsini: New Paintings," "Luminous," "Reconstruction," "Sherrie Levine: Selected Works"

"Escapism" Currently on display at G Gallery, this collection of work by San Antonio-based artist Jerry Cabrera is instantly grabbing, yet it's difficult to describe what is so attractive about it. Lengthwise panes of canvas are painted in crescendoing hues, some monochromatic, others complements on the color wheel. Reds turn into oranges turn into yellows. Where the colors meet in the center is a bright, white strip of paint, piercing enough to appear glowing. It's the white light that you follow to heaven, or to freedom. As the story of this collection goes, Cabrera visited a concentration camp in Germany and was struck by just how important light must have been to the prisoners. Light equaled hope and a better world that awaited them outside their horrific confines. Each piece in the collection is as striking as the next. Some are multi-paneled, others long strips. To the distant eye, one might think they were spray-painted, but each is carefully hand-painted; small-bristled brushes can give that effect. "Escapism" is definitely worth a stop into the G Gallery, which is conveniently located in the Historic Heights. But be warned; the work may make you want to hop on the next bus to find your own little bright-white escape. Through February 26. 301 East 11th St., 713-869-4770. — AK

"Hate Expo" Dusty Peterman and William Keihn, the two artists who make up Mushroom Necklace, have no issues with telling their audience to take a long walk off a short pier, but with more colorful four-letter words. Don't take it personally, it matches the theme and feel of the artwork they produce. "Hate Expo," their latest collection of work, on view at Domy Books, feels like a play on words, as do most of the duo's pieces. The collection features silk-screened prints, many of which resemble music posters or promotional fliers, but they smack you in the face. One poster invites you to the "Drug Street Festival," where "no sandals are allowed," while another appears to be a flyer for the "Loser Bar," where "bad luck awaits you" and, not so subliminally, advises you to end it all. The posters are clever and engaging, begging the audience to look again to be sure of what they had just read. One that stood out at first appeared to be a band flyer for the Beatles performing alongside another band named "Make Me Sad." Read quickly, the meaning has changed. The posters hang on the walls of Domy haphazardly with Duct tape and pushpins, which, again, seems to be Mushroom Necklace's shtick. Their work is meaningless, but everything is meaningless. Rather than saying "why bother," though, the two artists have shoved "why bother" in our faces by creating this thought-provoking collection. We are glad they bothered. Through March 15. 1709 Westheimer, 713-523-3669. — AK

"John Sonsini: New Paintings" Anyone acquainted with John Sonsini's work knows the drill. The Angeleno would find subjects for his portraits by picking up day laborers at street corners and Home Depot parking lots, paying them their normal hourly wages to sit for him. They picked their clothes and poses, and Sonsini painted them mostly straight on. Given the rare opportunity for this country's Mexican immigrants to represent themselves as they, for the most part, see fit, the concept has the makings of a saccharine Hollywood script. But these are good, painterly paintings. The 11 works on view at Inman Gallery demand that you spend time with them, examining each quick, thick brush stroke, noting the acute attention to detail in every puff of chest hair or thin mustache — a remarkable task, given the abstract quality of the work — and returning the gaze of each of the male subjects. The subjects sport jeans, khakis, security uniforms and, predominantly in this show, fútbol attire, soccer balls held close to their sides. One subject chose to go topless, leaning against a table, a perfect illustration of the raw honesty that these portraits convey. The unique expressions on each of the subjects' faces are also remarkable. The eyes — seemingly the same black pupils on white — are all uniquely expressive. Their postures, too, are carefully composed, arms fiercely crossed, or hands casually in pockets. All the men are painted against more free-form blocks of pastels. In some spots, these backgrounds aren't complete, revealing the white of the canvas. This unfinished quality gives the pieces a hurried feel, an appropriate sense of time and labor spent. I do have one serious gripe with Sonsini's admirable work, though — where are the ladies? Through February 25. 3901 Main, 713-526-7800. — MD

"Luminous" The seven artists in this show are united well by their use of light — either simply using it as a tool, manipulating it or toying with its meaning — but some pieces simply work better than others. Tobias Fike's Half the Speed of Light Is Constant and Cannot Be Touched is especially effective. It features a narrow, house-like wooden structure with a window that's lit from within by a bulb. At first glance, it seems like something's missing — that's it? — though the exhibition list notes that you can touch the work. When you do, you immediately feel a heartbeat. Of course, it's not really a heartbeat, but it feels like one — you know that thumping rhythm. Somehow, Fike has trapped the vibration from more than 60 of the artist's family members clapping to his heartbeat inside the piece, and it assumes an unexpected alive quality — the wood gives off warmth, and you hear the vibration more than you feel it. It's a deeply personal piece that you soon become attached to, your own heartbeat trying to match the rhythms of the wood's in that weird way. Also of note is co-curator Annie Strader's Locating Eden, which features a Remington typewriter standing on a table, on a bed of soil. Adding to this indoor-outdoor puzzle, the serene image of clouds is projected onto the typewriter's paper. Another standout is co-curator Matthew C. Weedman's Freeman, a video featuring a small astronaut toy made larger than life, lit by a storm of bright blues that are a shock of color in this largely black-and-white show. My favorite piece has to be Kristen Beal's June, for its display of old-timey ingenuity and craft. She's made miniature scenes of her native Kansas landscape — a horse grazing, a looming water tower, even a moving oil rig — and positioned and lit them so that just their shadows cast against the wall. They're supported by wooden blocks, laid out like a road that you happily travel along. Through February 25. Box 13 ArtSpace, 6700 Harrisburg Blvd., 713-533-8692. — MD


"Reconstruction" The Art Car Museum's group exhibition model sounds like a recipe for disaster — put out an open call for works, and take the first 125 that you get. Oh, and give them a one-word theme. But that's the case with "Reconstruction," the annual open call show running now at the Heights space. Yes, the art is a mixed bag. Many of the 100-plus pieces are forgettable, largely too arts-and-craftsy for any serious consideration (a lawn ornament-type piece of a fence sculpture with the word "love" written on each board, and an artist's framed tribute to her dad, complete with beer bottle caps, come to mind). There's plenty of quirk and pop culture references — a glass replica of Roy Lichtenstein's M-Maybe, a Che-esque Chihuahua — though not a lot of substance. There are a few standouts, to be sure, as you maneuver between the art cars. Baby Oh Baby by Sam VanBibber is a little piece of ingenuity — wood and watch parts coming together to form some demented, antique-looking contraption. Shannon Duckworth's The Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, which features neon red, blue and yellow brains sprouting from a tree-like toxic cauliflower, is intriguing. Tusk by Hazel Ganze — a horn made of wire — is beautiful in its shiny simplicity. The experimental Development by Jeremy Lovelace, a messy, splattered piece with sketches of ghostly women, makes me want to see more by the artist. Karen Pawson-Smith's Corporate Calf: Read the Fine Print, a papier-mâchéd golden calf wearing sunglasses and a bowtie, is sure to be a favorite of all the camera-toting visitors. And, of course, there's the featured artist, Sherry Sullivan, whose recognition here is well-deserved. Her lush nature paintings are transportive, containing worlds within her careful, orange-outlined water imagery. Finally, among the more topical works, there are a few "Occupy Wall Street" references, most prominently in Allen Rice III's spirited Reconstructing Liberty, that are a good fit here. The egalitarian spirit of this show is an appropriate call for the 99 percent. Through March 2. 140 Heights Blvd., 713-861-5526. — MD

"Sherrie Levine: Selected Works" Sherrie Levine is having a bit of a resurgence lately, thanks to "Mayhem," a survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and a forthcoming catalog this spring of the same name. But you don't have to go all the way across the country to see the modern art fixture's work. Here in Houston, Hiram Butler Gallery is hosting a small, but still lovely, show of the artist's work. The serene grounds, clean, sparse, white walls, and pointed roof of the gallery give the space an almost religious feel, as if you're worshiping the artist. And worship Levine, Butler does — the gallery owner has been a fan of the artist since the early 1980s, right around when she blew up with her After Walker Evans series, in which Levine claimed photos by the Depression Era photographer by rephotographing them herself — and giving critics and theorists much to ponder about authenticity and originality in art in the process. The collection of paintings and drawings here, which span 1986 to 2000, is by no means meant to be exhaustive — there aren't any sculptures, for one — but the survey has some noteworthy series by the artist. Of note is her Barcham Green Portfolio — five etchings that borrow from cultural icons, including one of Evans's photographs (or is it Levine's?), as well as prior works by Levine — a delicate image of bark and gold leaves that nods to her work with plywood. Mondrian and Degas are also sources of inspiration, admiration and, ultimately, material. The 1995 series After Degas is particularly marvelous, featuring a suite of five lithographs that are replications of archival prints of Degas's work, his signature comically visible in some, but shrunken and erased of his subtle color. This method of brazen replication that Levine has become synonymous with is made even more relevant — though rarely questioned — in the Internet age. Levine's show almost got lost in the holiday shuffle, but thanks in part to the Whitney exhibition, the gallery is extending its run, so you have time to go worship at her altar. 4520 Blossom St., 713-863-7097. — MD

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