"Houston Collects: African American Art" In 1865, a North Carolina father built a desk for his little girl, who was learning to read. Such a desk may not seem noteworthy, as it is rough-hewn and made from mismatched scraps of old furniture, with some pieces painted and others written upon. But this desk becomes almost unbearably beautiful when you realize it was created by an enslaved man during a period when it was verboten for people like him and his daughter to learn to read or write. Such acts were punishable by lashing, mutilation (cutting off of the fingertip or tongue), imprisonment and death. The lovingly made Child's Desk (1865, Ann and James Harithas collection) can be seen in "Houston Collects: African American Art," at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It's a massive show that includes more than 250 works of art, through which the museum showcases institutional and private efforts to collect, document and preserve African-American art from the 20th and 21st centuries. Divided into eight artistic and historical groupings, the show includes work by 19th-century artists and craftspeople; artists associated with the Harlem Renaissance, civil rights and historically black colleges and Texas universities; and contemporary, folk and outsider artists. The show, although strong, demands editing, as there are a dozen or so mediocre pieces interspersed among the good and the great. Our advice for museum-goers at "Houston Collects"? Take two days to see the show — it's that big! — and forgive the handful of less than worthy works. Through October 26. Carolyn Wiess Law Building, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — BS
"Indifference Personified" If you are an artist or in the art establishment and you take yourself too seriously, please don't go see Clark and Mark Flood's "Indifference Personified" at Domy Books and Cafe Brasil. (When I dropped by, Brasil's portion was off the wall for building repairs.) On unstretched canvases stapled to walls, Mark Flood (a.k.a. Clark, Mark, Perry, et al.) superimposes words (occasionally misspelled and hilarious at that), on top of his signature lace pieces. I was annoyed at first, but by the second painting I was laughing my ass off. Flood has hit the nail on the head, as he makes fun of art-world stereotypes including gullible collectors, emerging non-talent and the ever-present SASE. In one piece, the words "Art Opening" point at a crotch, and in another the artist's statement is simply "Fuck You." Don't miss his self-published book, Clerk Fluid, while you are there. Through October 25. 1709 Westheimer, 713-523-3669. — BS
"Lo-Fi No-Brow Folk Show" Founded less than a year ago, ArtStorm has carved out a place in Houston as a standard-bearer for quirky pop and work with West Coast roots, both of which put off the traditional centers of power in New York and Europe. "No-Brow" art has found an audience of collectors disillusioned with oblique conceptualism, and Houston is no exception. Both Jon Read and Glen Gips are dedicated lifers in an art world that has never accepted them. Gips has done portraits for years, but the work on view here is his personal, almost Dadaist drawings. In his vivid, meandering patterns and paranoiac doodles, a mental fire and a dark, brooding internal narrative are present. Composed on cardboard and other discarded materials, the psychedelic sketches are festooned with collage elements like candy wrappers and magazine illustrations. On his end, Read composes his scenes in minute detail, bright and vivid, his crayons and markers conjuring a sci-fi future of post-apocalyptic individualism. Between fighting gigantic monsters and hunting mutant fish, his characters fall in love, celebrate victory and pose defiantly in an orange-hued world. This exhibit of nontraditional artists gives credence to "No-Brow" and ArtStorm alike. Through October 18. 4828 Caroline,713-568-8174. — SC
"Houston Collects: African American Art"
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"RADAR EYES" Quebecois collective Seripop has assembled a wild show of contemporary Canadian printmakers, exploring the spectrum from commercial silk-screeners to avant-garde artists. Depicting musical acts that have come through Montreal, including Pere Ubu and Houston's own mysterious Jandek, these art posters are the result of technical and layered silk-screen processes by local artists – it's psychedelia with a damaged worldview, a postmodern interpretation of pop. Artist Gunsho contributes series of grotesque characters — beautifully printed imaginary demons — with a superb line quality and enviably adroit registration. Le Dernier Cri's cartoon prints of sexually perverse mutants push the envelope of good taste (the ArtCar Museum has sequestered some of the crazier works in a darkened room, accompanied by vintage Jimi Hendrix films). Lizz Hickey's amazingly detailed cityscape is a special treat, with tiny dry-point etchings of fingers, toes and faces building up into a metropolis. Seripop's own silk-screen contributions are loose, expressionist scenes that dance on the distinction between painting and mass media, like their forebears in the German modernist collective Die Brücke. In the museum's galleries full of offbeat art cars, the works jump off the wall dramatically. Those bizarre Canucks. Through November 9. 140 Heights Blvd, 713-861-5526. — SC