"The Big Show" For this year's big show, Marco Antonini of Brooklyn's NURTUREart has proven to be an adventurous curator whose style knows no boundaries. This is one of the leanest of the Big Shows yet. Among the 915 submissions from 381 artists, Antonini selected 69 works from 61 artists. The big attention-grabber is Katie Wynne's ingenious untitled piece, composed of simply a motorized tie rack and blue satin on a white platform. The satin is attached to this insect-like contraption, which is turned on so that it's constantly whirring and catching the cloth in its "legs." It's creepy, suspenseful and mesmerizing all at once, and you can watch it for hours. Kassandra Bergman's Always features a piece of cardboard with the word "always" on it in orange capital letters with glitter added, displayed in a much larger frame than necessary. This drab piece of cardboard suddenly becomes poignant and wistful, a long cry from the Dumpster it was most likely destined for. Mari Omori's Time Machine features tiny white soap sculptures on a white platter. It has a pleasing, clean, geometric element to it. And, this being soap, it's fragrant, too, which adds a delightful sensory component to the experience of the piece. Matthew Glover's Now Is When I Wish It Was Autumn is a playful installation of knitted reddish-brown leaves. Anyone with a tourist's knowledge of Houston's weather can get the joke, but it's still a funny one. The title of Donna E. Perkins's video — Beached Bag, Galveston — sets up the premise well. It's a three-minute, 30-second loop of a black plastic bag, washed repeatedly by waves at the shore. The TV is placed low, closer to your ankles than to your eyes, so the experience is as close to the original as possible, as if you were on a beach in Galveston watching this helpless bag get twisted by the waves over and over. Like Wynne's tie rack-satin piece, it keeps you oddly rooted. Through August 11. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — MD
"A Golden Time of Day" There is a great little photograph of Sammy Davis Jr. up at McClain Gallery now. It's pop perfection — the musician is decked out in a red vest and shoes, his arms out to his sides and his left foot kicked up in a freeze-frame dance pose. The fact that the image, by celebrity photog Milton H. Greene, is included in a group show about the use of gold in contemporary art, with nary any gold in sight, may be a bit perplexing at first. But as this exhibition shows, "golden" can be as much a use of color as a mood or feeling. Houston artist Tierney Malone inspired the name of the exhibition with his work Golden Time of Day, which is, curiously, a mostly red piece — a blood-red board with the text "golden time of day" written across it in a gold, upper-case stencil that gives the work an almost reverent feel, the propriety of this font contrasting the rugged, imperfect quality of the board. Christian Eckart''s Detail Painting #538 is what can be described as gold on gold — a square, textured panel of gold paint displayed in a gold frame. Other stand-out pieces in this pleasantly diverse show include Jonathan Seliger's humorous Golden Pavilion, a stack of gold-plated bronze in the shape of those mass-produced, disposable Chinese take-out boxes; Jenny Holzer's Amber Essays, a ridiculously thin electronic LED sign with scrolling, blinking gold text; and Karin Broker's heart on hold — an intricate, wired mess of vintage gold and pink rhinestone jewelry in the shape of a heart, encased in a glass box. Through August 18. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — MD
"Hilary Wilder: A Northern Tale" There is something compellingly otherworldly about Hilary Wilder's work. Geysers, glaciers, high seas — the imagery suggests a chilly northern element we can only approach through intense air conditioning. It's likely a desired effect, as Wilder plays with notions of what's real in nature in her new show at Devin Borden Gallery, fittingly called "A Northern Tale." The artist draws on her experiences traveling to Iceland for the new works. There are paintings of seascapes and exploding geysers, a sculpture of a black-and-gold skiff, and references to a modern war, the kind fought over fishery rights. To tell these stories, Wilder uses an impressive range of materials and skills. There's a wonderful craftiness to her works — she uses PVC and jewelry hinges in the white floor piece Garment for an Island Nation, spray paint and gold leaf in The Viking's Skiff, and, in the majority of pieces, acrylic on Yupo paper to depict, in turns, wood and ice. Raft, the show's centerpiece work, appears to be a raft in disarray, three pieces neatly held together while three others lean precariously off to the side, barely, almost impossibly held together by a string of twine. Upon closer inspection — namely, as one reads the gallery list — it becomes apparent that these aren't pieces of wood but an illusion of acrylic on Yupo paper that resembles the organic shades and patterns of wood. Wilder has tricked us. She successfully plays with order and disorder, the real and the unreal. Through August 5. 3917 Main, 713-529-2700. — MD
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"Interstitial Spaces: Julia Barello & Beverly Penn" The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft's inspired current show, "Interstitial Spaces," brings together Julia Barello and Beverly Penn in their first collaborative installation. This is such a natural pairing that it makes for a cohesive, rich, full show, even with only nine pieces on view. The two artists make skillful, sculptural wall works. Barello's materials of choice are X-ray and MRI films, which she cuts and dyes to look like delicate flora — they seem to sprout from the wall, they're so textured and alive. Penn, meanwhile, takes real plants, then freezes and casts them in bronze to capture every curl or twist. The resulting pieces have such a lightness to them, it's surprising and impressive to find out that they're bronze. Each of the artists' works have a sense of wild about them that's still nonetheless contained — Barello's flowers and trees are neat and trim, while Penn's threads are sprawling like unruly weeds yet still contained, whether in perfect circles or straight, exact lines. Their sensibilities combine wonderfully in a new collaborative wall installation made just for the center that stretches the length of the main wall. It's massive — you can't take it all in at once, but have to walk along, taking it in as you move through the space. It's called Submerged, and the film and bronze do seem to move together fluidly, like water or, similarly, a wind current. What really comes through here and in the other exhibition works is the ways the pieces interact with the spaces they don't occupy. Around each twist of a bronze or film flower, there's emptiness in the form of the white wall. As the name of the show implies, these between, or interstitial, spaces are as important as the works themselves. Through September 1. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — MD
"Kyle Farley: Countenance" Most of the eight works by Kyle Farley in this show are lit, either by a source within, by small bulbs on the surface or, as is the case in one piece, by a red spotlight attached to the work. But it's one of the more straightforward pieces that features the strongest imagery. In Untitled (Navajo Swastikas), there are no lights or complex parts, just the black-and-white image of a basketball team digitally printed on wooden boards seemingly ripped from an old basketball court. On their uniforms, the players sport swastikas. But these aren't German Nazis. They're Navajos, circa 1909, photographed before the swastika was adopted as a symbol of the Nazi party. It's a powerful photo, made all the more so by Farley's composition and materials. The ancient symbol is seen again in Swastika Ball. Here, Farley uses a light box and a photograph of a group of children performing the Nazi salute. This scene is not in Germany, either, but Milwaukee during the mid-1930s. One half of the photo is clearly manipulated, as the children are stiffly raising their left arms instead of their right. The 80-year-old image is subversively undermined thanks to some modern-day photo technology. They're big pieces — Farley showed up with 30 works for the show, and the modest Redbud Gallery was able to fit only eight — with big, if also a bit perplexing, ideas. Here's this good ol' boy from Cleburne, Texas, digging up forgotten Nazi paraphernalia. But shock value seems to be only part of it. Other works feature images of the Nazis' base in Antarctica, Vladimir Putin, the American eagle, rockets and oil fields. They're all symbols of power that Farley's managed to diminish. Nothing is off limits here. Through August 27. 303 E. 11th St., 713-862-2532. — MD
"UNIT" Well, right now you can see more than 30 prints and editions from the online UNIT art shop in person in a new show at Gallery Sonja Roesch. It's a fitting location — UNIT is run by Houston artist Ariane Roesch, whose mother, Sonja, founded the gallery. It's the first of an annual summer show featuring works available on the site that include handmade limited-edition prints, products and publications. A quick run of the place introduces you to Cody Ledvina's Crawdad Ledvina EXPERIENCE, a display of DVD cases that tell a story through the covers (the video itself will be screened at the end of the exhibition's run); Mary Magsamen and Stephan Hillerbrand's Stuffed, a pillow case printed with the photograph of an intimidating ball of possessions; and Myke Venable's 12 tins, a line of black, diamond-shaped tins descending from the ceiling, attached to the wall with magnets. There are plenty of memorable prints, too; standouts include Gissette Padilla's Malicious Compliance, a "passive aggressive" lithography inspired by comic-book drawings; Mark Ponder's Cope, Not Hope series — ink drawings featuring overused, positive words like "wonderful" and "great" in a childlike bubble font surrounded by balloons and hearts, the dead, deflated balloons suggesting something darker; and Kim Huynh's Keystone Project Alberta, a photo-intaglio that has the word "pipeline" hole-punched into the print as if literally poking holes in the Alberta-Nebraska pipeline project. Lewis Mauk also is a prominent artist in the gallery with works from a recent series that speaks to his hoarding tendencies, including three photo-lithographs of decades-old marijuana baggies, ready to pop, and two Warhol-esque silk screens of larger-than-life used toothbrushes. Through August 25. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424. — MD
"Woven Landscapes" In this mesmerizing new show of Austin artist Bethany Johnson's work at Moody Gallery, one of the "landscapes" in question features rolling clouds across a vast horizon. The image, called Horizont II, is the result of rows of horizontal lines — each line itself made up of tiny dashes. It makes for a modern digital effect, as if this were a bad printout of a scan. The image is not revealing in any way — this could be a rural plain anywhere. Except it's not a plain at all. The image is taken from a photograph of a line in the road, cracked by wear and resembling, from a certain perspective, tumultuous clouds. In this piece and others in her solo show, Johnson cleverly plays with the intersection of nature, scale and human interaction. All of the pieces are composed of these meticulously placed dashes that you have to get up close to see. The lines run horizontal, vertical or both, in grids of blues, greens and reds that vibrate against each other, they're so close. As the name "Woven Landscapes" seems to suggest, there's a strong sense of craft. The methodical process used in creating these landscapes is very hands-on. Though they look like computer-generated images, they are the result of hours of mechanical labor. Some of these ink drawings are inspired by images of actual landscapes — vast skies and rural stretches seen during the artist's residency in Germany last year. Others, like the Horizont series, play with your sense of perception by creating an immense scene out of a tiny section of road or, in other cases, a close-up of a tree. Even in the smallest detail, you can find depth. Through August 18. 2815 Colquitt St., 713-526-9911. — MD