"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
"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
"Houston Collects: African American Art"
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"A Time for Change" PaperCity fine arts editor Catherine D. Anspon curated this group show, which shifts in tone from works that embody states of flux to a more positive, euphoric status. Thankfully, Anspon resists commenting too much on the current presidential race, even though the exhibition's most prominent piece employs a candidate's likeness. The changing face of China is represented in Re-Tool, daniel-kayne's readymade-ish, red "8-ton long ram jack," which supports three gigantic wrenches stamped CHINA. Tracy Hicks evokes environmental fever with Forearm Study, a mixed-media piece incorporating glass, rubber frogs and thermometers. Nathaniel Donnett's Return Of Tha Gangsta Ego depicts the shadow of a child raised in a world of crime, nicely rendered in foam core, a little pair of tennis shoes and a gumball machine filled with multicolored bullets. And damn if that Shepard Fairey Barack Obama image won't go away. Here though, in an interesting twist, Anthony Thompson Shumate co-opts the image for his video animation I am BLUE 'cause I am RED over you, xoxoxo, in which Obama's face robotically recites a Marxist manifesto. I'm glad I don't know Shumate's politics, because I love the ambiguous nature of the work. It represents the hope and fear and trepidation of the moment. Through November 4, Deborah Colton Gallery, 2445 North Blvd. 713-869-5151. Free. — TS