"First Take: Okay Mountain" Parodying self-help gurus, religious cults and creepy corporate "team building," the Austin artist collective Okay Mountain has brought its incisive yet engagingly goofball work to the Blaffer Art Museum. In a projected video, a woman in gray-ish clothing speaks to you in hypnotically soothing tones, giving detailed instructions on everything from relaxation to communal cooking to furniture assembly. It could just as easily be the DVD for a cult handbook as a Fortune 500 employee orientation video. Meanwhile, Trust Staircase is a wheeled wooden staircase leading to nowhere. Its treads are covered with glowing "coals." At the front of each step, illuminated sentences present assertive statements like "Your mind is calm" and "You can choose your own fate." Behind the staircase is a mattress with a rough target painted on it. It's a smart, perceptive and funny installation. Okay Mountain could easily take a page from L. Ron Hubbard and start its own freakin' religion. Through April 2. Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston, 120 Fine Arts Building, 713-743-9521. — KK
"Heimir Björgúlfsson: The Classical" Elements from the natural world become characters in the collages of Heimir Björgúlfsson. Björgúlfsson cuts out photos of things like rocks and plants and inserts them into various photographic settings. Giant hunks of mineral ore appear to inch along aerial telephone lines like commandos. Chunks of cactus stand like tourists posing for a photo in front of a stunning mountain backdrop. Two rocks levitate high in the air, each just touching the other as if pausing to kiss while viewing the surf below them. As formally lovely as it is endearingly strange, Björgúlfsson's highly original work inspires a multitude of narratives. Through April 2. CTRL Gallery, 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. – KK
"Larassa Kabel: and all of this so far from Heaven" Colored pencils get a bad rap. As is the case with the equally derided watercolor, there is nothing inherently wrong with the medium, it's just that they both seem to attract so many people who make such bad art. Larassa Kabel's work at Peel Gallery is, for the most part, a welcome exception. Kabel works in a restrained black and white palette. Her series of small works done from oddly cropped photos provoke that "Wow, it looks just like a photo!" response. They aren't bad, but they just aren't pushed far enough beyond skillful duplication, and showing them framed with glass and clips over colored mats doesn't help to dispel colored pencil's high-school art associations. But Kabel is capable of some really incredible work, and her series of eight-by-eight-foot drawings of horses in free-fall are stunning. Set against blank white paper, the massive animals twist and contort in the air, their manes and tails flowing, their muscles clearly visible under their shiny coats. They remind me of an equine version of Robert Longo's 1980s drawings of flailing yuppies. If Kabel keeps producing work of this caliber, Prismacolor should give her a stipend. Through April 30. Peel Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-520-8122. — KK
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"Mark Bradford: A 20 Year Survey" Mark Bradford, the no-holds-barred poster boy of Houston's art car scene, has a 20-year survey on view at, fittingly, the Art Car Museum. Bradford has received a lot of national attention for his work, even hosting the History Channel show Scrapyard Scavenger. While this survey includes some more traditional sculpture by Bradford, aside from some wall masks with motorized eyes and mouths, they aren't especially interesting. Bradford's over-the-top art cars and contraptions are where the artist really shines. His giant motorized creatures are pretty amazing, many of them covered with "scales" made from stainless steel spoons. (Bradford bought three station wagons full of silverware when American Airlines shifted to plastic utensils after 9/11.) In addition to the sculptures and art cars, video documentation of past events plays in the gallery, presenting exploits that range from shooting down a snowy ski run in a rigged-up sled, to riding fire-breathing contraptions at Burning Man, to catapulting a refrigerator for a world record. Combining superb fabrication and scavenging skills with a raw Mad Max sensibility, Bradford is a true Houston original. Through April 24. 140 Heights Blvd., 713-861-5526. — KK