"Heroes Alter Egos" Utilizing images of Nixon, Reagan and both Bushes to represent the dark side of American culture has become an artistic cliché, just like JFK's visage gets used to symbolize good. Now that Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous Barack Obama poster has proclaimed open season on the presidential candidate's face as a tool for artistic expression signifying "hope," let the boredom begin. In "Heroes Alter Egos," a group show featuring works by Robert Hodge, Lovie Olivia, Michael K. Taylor and Lance Flowers, Obama makes at least three appearances, including a direct implementation of the Fairey poster. Conceptually, the show is meant as a mirror into urban culture, built around each artist's perception of a "hero," so Obama's inclusion makes perfect sense; it just doesn't bode well for art. The works succeed most when they're championing everyday people, as in Taylor's photo collages and Flowers's nicely layered and intricate patchworks of urban iconography. The most unusual (and humorous) depiction of a hero, though, is a wall of stacked, colorful boxes being navigated by Q*bert, the hopping, tube-nosed video game character. Credited to no artist in particular, it's a nice, simple statement amid the pop-cultural swirl of the exhibit. Q*bert's heroic mission, after all, is to change the color of things. Through October 2. space125gallery, 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-9330. — TS
"Joe Mancuso: Still Still Life" As Barbara Davis Gallery describes them, the works on display in "Still Still Life" are a departure from Joe Mancuso's usual "formal and meticulous" process. It's true they're different from the singular subjects of previous works, but they're still meticulously (even obsessively) made. Working within the milieu of abstract collage, Mancuso uses several different materials and techniques to construct balanced interactions of shape, texture and imagery (mostly flowers). Latex paint, carefully dripped from a syringe, forms grippy sectors that look like linoleum. Works like Satellite Heart contain a flower motif executed using different techniques — those may or may not be chemical transfer, screen print, watercolor, stencil, latex paint, resin and encaustic. White is usually the background for Mancuso's Day-Glo patchwork, but the artist isn't afraid to expose the bare canvas, either, and there's an appealing mystery in that choice. A painting like Firecracker feels like it blasted onto canvas from across the room, but in reality the jagged shards of red paint were lovingly applied without haste. It's high energy in slow motion. Through October 4. Barbara Davis Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — TS
"Neo HooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith" Organized by Franklin Sirmans, Menil curator of modern and contemporary art, this exhibition is one of the most compelling Houston has seen in a long time. The artists in "Neo HooDoo" come from across the Americas, and much of their work is rooted in both African and indigenous practices, and also inspired by European culture. Cuban-born María Magdalena Campos-Pons's beautiful triptych When I am not here/ Estoy Allá (1997) is laden with symbolic imagery from both worlds. It consists of three large-scale Polaroids displayed vertically, all with tones of rich indigo blue, a reference to the practice of trading slaves for bolts of indigo cloth. In Storm at Sea (2007), New Jersey-born Radcliffe Bailey has created an installation that emits an almost inexplicable energy. A statue of an African goddess stands in the corner of the gallery, facing out toward a tempestuous sea created out of hundreds of dislodged piano keys. The area immediately surrounding her seems preternaturally calm. Oppression of other peoples is not a thing of the past, as observed by Regina José Galindo, a video artist and activist from Ciudad de Guatemala with three videos on display. In Confession (2007), her head is repeatedly held underwater for long periods of time by a big, burly man. There's also 150,000 Voltos (2007), in which she is Tasered by a man until she falls down, and Liempza Social (2006), in which the naked Galindo is sprayed with a high-pressure hose until she is knocked down, cold and obviously in pain. Of course, unlike the helpless and often innocent victims at Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib, Galindo could ask her tormentor to stop at any time. "Neo HooDoo" is such a great show, it would be a sin not to see it. Through September 21. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — BS
"Heroes Alter Egos"
"(Re)Vision: A Preservation of Houston's Inner Loop" Shannon Duncan's odd installation is a kind of memorial to the passing of a product and to residential real estate. In February, Polaroid stopped producing instant film — a seriously profound event in consumer culture, when you think about it. So Duncan decided to preserve, in a way, Houston's Inner Loop residencies in states of flux, using the newly outdated film. Through searching Communitywalk.com, Duncan found Inner Loop houses and properties that were being demolished or were undergoing construction, drove to those sites and took snapshots. Many photos include piles of rubble, lumber, Port-O-Potties and Dumpsters, while others are simply vacant lots. Some pictures depict fully constructed houses; perhaps those have been scheduled for demolition. On the wall, Duncan arranged the photos in vertical rows of three, in order, according to Zip Code. Altogether, they form a random pattern that almost resembles a key. Duncan also has included items she recovered from some of the sites, random ephemera like an LL Cool J cassette, a karate trophy, Happy Meal toys, slides of someone's vacation to Machu Picchu and, of course, Polaroids. You will be missed. Through September 27. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — TS
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"Transcendental Smoothie" This is a visual feast, literally. For the exhibit's main work, Forced Fields, Mary Magsamen and Stephan Hillerbrand have loaded the gallery with hanging translucent balloons, through which video is projected, creating spherical screens that display (among other things) one of their children making star-shaped cookies. The video is shot from under a sheet of Plexiglas, over which the child cuts a slab of dough with a cookie cutter. It's a brilliant effect; occasionally we see the little girl's eye through the star-shaped hole left by the cookie cutter, and projected through the hanging balloons it creates a warped starscape across the room. The images create a lysergic world of childlike incorruptibility. The ever-present drone of crickets emphasizes a state of uninterrupted bliss. Other works somewhat miss the mark. Let's Get Married features three separate frames, again shot from underneath Plexiglas, in which Magsamen and Hillerbrand devour slices of bread, peanut butter and jelly. They lap it all up using only their mouths, smearing it and smushing it all over the glass. Then the video reverses, so it looks like they're regurgitating it back out. It's really fun to watch, but it's unclear why Magsamen and Hillerbrand feel they need to augment their imagery with spoken words — basically the words "peanut butter and jelly" plugged into different phrases. It makes you want to turn off the music and the words and just look at the pictures and listen to the crickets. Through September 27. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — TS