"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 were 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
"The Paper Runway" Making clothes out of paper is the definition of counterintuitive, but it was big for a brief period of the mid-1960s, considered avant-garde and futuristically practical. This show at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft features an abundance of paper fashion by contemporary creators as well as a few of those period pieces. Organized by the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the exhibition has a lengthy, international list of curators. But that may be the cause of its problems — it's in dire need of editing. Let's just say that some of them have significantly better taste than others. One of the standouts is a great A-line paper dress, produced by the Mars Manufacturing company of Asheville, North Carolina, that might have been white but now has the hue of old newspapers. It has a keyhole neck with black string tie and a black-and-gray pattern of bold baroque swirls and florals. The manufacturer ingeniously had the "fabric" printed with patterns by a gift-wrap manufacturer. The piece has a wonderful label that instructs you not to wash it or dry-clean it. Unfortunately, this show is as badly hung as it is overcrowded, and right smack in the middle of these two period dresses is a contemporary contribution that seems like it's supposed to be wearable as well. A long, boxy shift that would look like hell on and would doubtless rip when you walked, it's made out of "marbleized" coffee filters applied like fish scales. The show's absolute standout is Nancy VanDevender's Ruffled Tattoo Jacket, a long, sweeping, belted wrap coat of what looks to be vinyl-coated paper. It's digitally printed with a funky pattern of drawn and photographed ruffles. The sleeves and edges are cut to follow the ruffles' outlines. It's hip, witty, modern, well-designed and dramatic. Through September 4. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — 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