Capsule Reviews

"Fade In: New Film and Video" This Contemporary Arts Museum exhibition, curated by Paola Morsiani, presents a group of works by eight international artists. American Luis Gispert's installation, Foxy Xerox (2003), is a witty take on the appropriation of hip-hop culture by white America. On one wall, a blond girl in a pale blue terry sweat suit and lots of gold jewelry dances to a hip-hop track. On the opposite wall, we see the same girl in a pink sweat suit, wearing a black wig and blackface, which is, of course, jolting for anybody who didn't grow up in the 1930s. It has obviously unsettling associations, but here Gispert is using it to effectively parody white emulation of black culture. The girl's makeup is unconvincingly applied and smeared all over her clothes as she tries really, really hard and really, really unsuccessfully to be something she isn't. A couple of the pieces could be vastly improved by some editing and self-restraint on the part of the artists. Israeli artist Doron Solomons has a lot of ideas going on in his video Father (2002). There's enough material here for more than one video: computer animation, home videos, news segments, car safety tests and videotaped suicide notes. The artist is commenting on being a father and living in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he's throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. Artists have been using film and video since the early 1960s, but at a recent panel on new media in Houston, a local arts professional questioned its worth as an art form. It's a debate most people consider long over. Film and video are tools just like any other. Through July 4. 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

"Georganne Deen, Patrick Phipps, Scott Teplin" All three of these artists play at the murky frontier of image, text and narrative. Teplin incorporates letters and words into a rebuslike code; they have a set of repeating elements, including letters drawn as glassware, hollow teeth with straws, mustachioed mouths, looping cords and crud dripping from the letters. Looking at this whole set, the viewer starts to see these repeating motifs as part of a hieroglyphic language, as if they carried as much meaning as the letters and words. It doesn't seem possible to interpret them exactly, but the simple illusion of meaning is a positive thing. There's no such illusion in Patrick Phipps's work. His ink sketches are done on graph paper and lined office tablets, pinned to the walls unframed in an untidy, haphazard fashion. A few of Phipps's drawings work as cartoons, at about the level of workmanship found in self-published comics. They comment upon easy cultural targets. For example, "Generation Gap" shows a kid in a T-shirt with the slogan "I love Staind and Linkin Park." Phipps's humor is more obvious than Teplin's, while Deen's paintings resonate with the viewer more. She uses words to present a narrative in a series of paintings. Taking the mythological character of Persephone and her captivity in the underworld as a starting point, Deen portrays her struggle through grief and anger as she finds her way out of darkness and into a world of light and possibility. The story is enhanced by text written on the walls around the pictures, in the voice of the heroine. Although these paintings are presented as illustrations of a simple fable, each stands on its own, both as story and as visual object. Through July 3 at Mixture Contemporary Art, 1709 Westheimer 713-520-6809.

"Nexus" Knowing when to stop is a big part of creating a successful painting. Michael Kennaugh has pretty much figured that out in his new show. In these paintings, raw canvas and pencil marks for unrealized forms are visible, yet the works feel complete. Kennaugh sizes his canvas with rabbit-skin glue, which is a really old-school thing to do. It colors the exposed material in a pleasant, mellow way that makes it seem aged. The artist's linear elements and geometric forms are drawn, more than painted, on the canvas; the elements are directly and matter-of-factly brushed on -- they feel like the first stages of an aspiring modernist Meisterstück. In Lexington (2004), triangles and lines radiate out from a central swirl. The ungessoed, yellowed canvas has a significant presence in itself. Kennaugh uses slightly timeworn shades like pale blue and art-deco orange. A lemon-yellow triangle feels just a little bit grubby, and a blue-black swirl seems a trifle faded, stopping short in mid-curve, as if its maker planned to get back to it eventually. The paintings look like unfinished studies unearthed from the studio of some dead, slightly provincial, early European modernist -- and in Kennaugh's works this is not a bad thing, but a good and interesting one. Through July 3 at Moody Gallery, 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911.

"Olafur Eliasson: Photographs" Olafur Eliasson presents a world with a quietly powerful, contemplative and fascinating beauty. For his exhibition at the Menil Collection, he's taken photos of Iceland and grouped them in grids, creating series of images and recording his movements though landscape -- over a trail, down a river. He creates what are essentially portraits of the natural and man-made phenomena he explores: chunks of intensely blue glacial ice, boulders, broken stones, bridges. Portraits of rocks may sound boring as hell, but his carefully examined presentation makes them fascinating. Nature's incredible variety is a patently obvious concept, but Eliasson explores it without heavy-handedness. You go through the same process of discovery he did in taking his pictures, editing them and grouping them together. The path series (1999), a grid of 24 photographs, depicts lush green grass worn away to reveal rich, dark earth, footsteps embossed in a line in the snow, and a trail burnished into a desolate stony field. It's a record of different landscapes and a document of the artist's walk through his environment. And what a strange environment it is. In The moss valley series (2002), a grid of 16 large photographs records sections of rocky, moss-covered earth. The undulating carpets of dull green look like NASA shots from an alien landscape. They're beautiful and just a little bit creepy. The landscape series (1997) has some lovely images, but the scenic shots aren't as compelling because they're not as specific as his other investigations. Eliasson's work is at its best when parameters are more closely defined. Through September 5. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.

"Tony Magar: Paintings" Tony Magar has energetically embraced a point of view from 50-odd years ago and used it as his point of departure for his most recent exhibition. There isn't a smidgen of raw canvas to be seen in these hard-won, bushy grounds, whose rough surfaces reveal the layers of paint within. Magar is a painter who always does a competent, if sometimes unexciting, job. But here his strong, unapologetic colors feel especially fresh and dynamic. A case in point: Taos Fire (2004), whose almost kelly-green background hosts smears of cadmium red-orange, swatches of yellow ocher and a patch of black overlaid by dry white scribbles. Odysseus, Part II (2003) is a little Cy Twombly-esque, but Lord knows that Grecophile doesn't own the rights to classical references. And the painting itself recalls Twombly, but with stronger lines. A pale, Naples-yellow background hosts glacially sketchy lines in bluish-gray, shot with occasional vivid orange marks. It's more subdued than the other works, but it's extremely pleasant. Magar's least successful paintings in the show are a grayed-down, muddied threesome in the second gallery. He works best keeping his colors clean -- not squeaky-clean, but with just enough intermingling to make them interesting. Magar is in his seventies and old enough to have shown with de Kooning and Kline at Martha Jackson Gallery in 1958, but he hasn't been making ab-ex-inspired stuff this whole time -- his early work had much more in common with that of sculptor Mark Di Suvero, with whom he founded Park Place Gallery. Through July 3 at New Gallery, 2627 Colquitt, 713-520-7053.

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