"If We Only Knew Now What They Knew Then" Doilies meet fringe in "If We Only Knew Now What They Knew Then" at the Houston Arts Alliance's space 125gallery. The show pairs Individual Artist Fellowship recipients Melanie Crader and Katy Heinlein. Crader is known for her deadpan "girly" abstractions referencing feminine decorative elements. In this show, she uses her work to build up a narrative about a domestic space. Doily patterns are crisply cut into shiny enameled paper; a drawer excised from a dresser opens to reveal a flocked interior and the word "theft." Katy Heinlein presents swagged and fringed fabric sculptures that extend from and angle out from the wall. In one piece, a wooden frame is slipcovered so precisely, its bold stripes seem to be painted. As always, Heinlein has some great stuff, but if she could double or triple the scale, it would be amazing. Through September 9. 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-9330. — KK
"Jay Shinn: Refuge" Jay Shinn's sculptures use slender bars of stainless steel to create geometric forms that hang on and extend from the wall. While that description may sound really dull, the results are pretty great. The forms create shadows on the wall that Shinn skillfully highlights, using subtle angles of pale gray color. At first you think there is some kind of tinted Plexi creating the shades, but when you get really, really close, you realize it's paint. Shinn also uses this faint but crisp color in his Shattered-X (2010), an x-like projection of light that precisely strikes a geometric wall painting. It's a static image that feels kaleidoscopic. This kind of artful, elegantly restrained work is rare and welcome. Through August 21. Barbara Davis Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — KK
"Kaneem Smith" Kaneem Smith's installation of brown wax bones looks like the spoils of archaeological grave robbing. In Smith's solo show at TSU's University Museum, the cast bones are hung in a line on the wall, as if a researcher is categorizing and labeling them. And in a project located behind the old Jeff Davis hospital, Smith has done a public art piece that relates to this work. She filled grave-like metal ellipses with gravel and placed them over the unmarked African American burial ground behind the building. Although development has encroached into the area, the graves were never relocated. Will some archaeological team of the future excavate, clean, codify and display those remains of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters? Issues of memory, loss and a fascination with the body permeate Smith's work. Her University Museum exhibition is filled with materials like raw cotton, rope and handwoven fabrics, sometimes coated with plastic or rubber to create visceral and highly evocative objects. Through September 26. Texas Southern University, University Museum, Fairchild Building (south wing), 713-313-7011. — KK
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"Seth Alverson" In his current slew of oil paintings at Art Palace, Seth Alverson displays an extraordinary ability to charge seemingly banal subjects with slow-burning menace and mystery. Many of the paintings, when viewed from a distance, could be photographs — like Bed for One, a simple image of a tiny room with single bed draped in a yellow blanket, viewed from outside the doorway. Something about it suggests a malevolent presence; Alverson intentionally maintains a distance, as if entering the room would effectively cross a psychic boundary. Mop is a gruesome scene of inexplicable violence: a white-walled hallway corner with a blood-covered floor and a mop propped against the wall. Why no blood on the walls? And why does the mop seem to stand upright in the space, regardless of its handle's shadow against the wall? Alverson is forcing questions that bypass the work's horrific narrative, desensitizing his subject with optical illusions. Works like Fence display a masterly ability to render out-of-focus subjects, like a forest in the distance viewed from behind a sharply focused wooden fence. You see it again in Dress, a woman in a solid-blue dress framed from neck to knee. She is standing in an open field, with blurry trees on the horizon, both hands grasping a camera. Alverson is withholding essential bits of the story, perhaps even non-dramatic, boring ones, and it causes us to imagine the worst. It's compelling work. Through August 21. 3913 Main. 281-501-2964. — TS