Capsule Stage Reviews: Arline Fisch: Creatures from the Deep, Hardbodies, "Liz Hickok: Jiggling Geography", Lynda Benglis: Glass Masks, Marc Swanson: The Second Story, "Mitch Dobrowner: New Work", "Musicians Who Make Art"

Arline Fisch: Creatures from the Deep For many, jellyfish are nasty, menacing creatures that creep silently through the water, furtively honing in on our exposed flesh as we tread water in coastal waves. As a kid, I was terrified of the cabbage heads and Portuguese Man o' Wars washed up on Galveston beaches, thinking they could instantly spring to life and whip their stinging tentacles around my ankles. But maneuvering through Arline Fisch's installation of iridescent sea creatures at the Center for Contemporary Craft, I wanted to reach out and touch them. Made of knitted and crocheted copper wire and fabric, Fisch's intricate renderings of several jellyfish species successfully mimic the animals' bizarre shapes, wild colors and shiny, metallic sheens. Taken out of a watery environment and transferred to the air, they appear more like strange spores carried on the wind, or even like organic satellites. Kids gawk at them in wonder; not terror. These would've gone a long way toward allaying my beach fears had I seen them as a kid. But then there was Jaws. Through July 30. Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main, 713-529-4848 — TS

Hardbodies Fans of graphic novels, zines and underground comics will definitely want to check out this show (assuming they haven't already heard of Domy Books). All four artists — Benjamin Marra, Nathan Fox, Zack Soto and Keenan Marshall Keller — use a section of wall in the tiny bookstore gallery to display a sampling of their work. Marra's alternative universe includes two kick-ass lingerie models/secret assassins (who're also secretly in love with each other, fighting an evil archenemy while expressing in thought bubbles how turned on they are). Fox is the best-known artist on display, contributing some muscular graphic panels as well as humorous pinups and celeb-inspired images (Metallica, Charlie Sheen, Conan O'Brien). Keller delivers some of the weirder stuff — surreal and violent content mixed with high silliness, as in Alien Hitler's Subterranean Birthday Bash. Soto shows his cool comic book covers for comics that don't exist, like the Shining-inspired Spectre Girls. As usual, Domy delivers an impressive selection of niche-oriented work, by really interesting artists, at relatively affordable prices. Through August 4, Domy Books, 1709 Westheimer, 713-523-3669 — TS

"Liz Hickok: Jiggling Geography" Liz Hickok's photographs of cityscapes made from multi-flavored Jell-O are certainly fun and curious. There's obviously an enormous amount of work required for each photographic setup — making the molds, the staging areas, the miniature foliage, lighting. Hickok re-creates the San Francisco skyline as seen from Alcatraz, the White House, the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks as glowing, multicolored, slightly unstable structures and cities lit from below. Hickok feels there's a metaphor at work in these images: that the Jell-O represents or transmits the fragility of the natural and man-made real world. But subscribing to that analysis only injects cynical intellectualism into what is essentially bizarre and otherworldly. Any kid would want a Jell-O city for their birthday party, so they could admire it, jiggle it, and decimate each Jell-O skyscraper and house one-by-one. The exhibit also makes us wonder: Just how big is Hickok's refrigerator? And has the Food Network called yet? Through July 31. De Santos Gallery, 1724 Richmond, 713-520-1200. — TS

Lynda Benglis: Glass Masks Lynda Benglis is an artist perhaps best known for her confrontational advertisement in the November 1974 issue of Artforum that depicted her naked, wearing sunglasses and holding a giant, realistic dildo at her crotch. Some critics felt it was a powerful, provocative image attacking a male-dominated art establishment; others called it over-the-top and exploitative. In the years since, Benglis has let her sculpture speak for itself, and these new glass works definitely impress. Seemingly inspired by tribal masks, they must be seen up close and in person to grasp the detail and embedded layers of color and luster. In shape, they resemble giant bottles or vases that have been stretched and augmented with shards of colored glass and copper wire. Each "mask" has a short bottle neck at the top, along with facial features rendered by either shaping the glass surface or twisting wire to create an abstract face. Interestingly, all the pieces are named after towns in Louisiana: "Goldonna," "Simsboro," "Tickfaw." (Benglis is originally from Lake Charles.) In the gallery, audio of chirping birds is played, giving the show a solemn vibe — like an exhibit of Mardi Gras relics washed up after the storm surge. Through July 30. Texas Gallery, 2012 Peden, 713-524-1593. — TS

Marc Swanson: The Second Story This exhibit's title, "The Second Story," suggests that there was indeed a first story, a previous narrative — that this show is in effect a sequel. Or it references a San Francisco gay bar by the same name. Both are true. Viewers familiar with the artist Marc Swanson who are clued in to his gay-culture (specifically ball culture) references, may walk away from the show smugly satisfied, feeling as if they'd received a secret message. But the work is also enjoyable as a series of contemporary memorials: the "second story" of a life. Immediately visible upon entrance is a turtle shell encrusted with rhinestones (Swanson is known for his taxidermied deer heads covered in crystals), a reference to a character in the 19th-century novel Against Nature, who sets gemstones in his pet tortoise's shell, and the extra weight kills the animal. Other works are arrangements of items, chains, fabric and photos, boxed and hung like shrines. One piece is a kind of stacked totem displaying a man's portrait; it includes a little shelf where you might place a candle. Overall the show comes off as a highly personal set of works, and viewers' personal histories will determine the degree to which its symbolic content connects. But even without a reference library, the show emits a strong emotional charge. Through October 9, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — TS

"Mitch Dobrowner: New Work" If you've ever felt the eerie calm before a funnel cloud ravages a row of houses just a block away, or braced yourself while the offshore hurricane creeps toward landfall, you'll appreciate the new batch of spectacular photographs by Mitch Dobrowner currently on display at John Cleary Gallery. Dobrowner's hero is Ansel Adams, and he photographs a lot of mountain scenes in the Southwest and California. It's pretty stuff — placid, contemplative. But Dobrowner's storm photography is even better for its sense of action and impending violence. He captures mythological cloud formations in Tornado Alley, some resembling the special-effects storms caused by the mother ships in alien-invasion movies. Dobrowner's low horizon line in a photo like Arm of God, Galacia, Kansas characterizes the storm as a supernatural entity. It isn't a new idea. The hokey movie Twister used that "finger of God" language too, but Dobrowner's distance from his storm subjects suggests a more stark and sober mood than the adrenaline-fueled hysteria of a storm chaser. For Dobrowner, the swirling wind and danger is far away. For now, we're safe. But for how long? One photo, Monsoon, Lordsburg, New Mexico, captures a storm in the shape of a mushroom cloud, as if nature is mimicking human destruction, building up enough strength to blow us away. Through August 31. 2635 Colquitt, 713-524-5070. — TS

"Musicians Who Make Art" When speaking of crossover in art forms, perhaps musicians and visual artists are most successful at achieving success in each other's fields of expertise. Through their manual manipulations of instruments and materials, musicians and visual artists seem naturally inclined to swing between the visual image and the sonic composition. The Art Car Museum is proving it with its current exhibit "Musicians Who Make Art." Largely a Texas-based conglomeration of art, the show includes works by well-known musicians like Butch Hancock of the Flatlanders, whose otherworldly prints evoke sci-fi fantasy, and Joe Ely, who contributes a photo montage/collage of funny, prison-themed DIY infographics. Austin's Bob Schneider's contribution is most surprising, with his outlandish and meticulously detailed etchings and aquatints. (We actually like his artwork more than his music.) Ken Little and Bryan Wheeler are better known as visual artists first (who also play in bands), and their works on display are among the most visually arresting in the exhibit. Wheeler's Infinite Jest takes cues from Jasper Johns in its striking amalgamation of pop and abstract imagery, while Little's Black Jacket Moose amuses as a taxidermied moose head impressively outfitted in black leather and a selection of sporting-good footgear. On the local end, standouts include work by local concept-rock legend Beans Barton, Two Star Symphony's Jo Bird and the Sideshow Tramps' Craig Kinsey. Our favorite is a piece that addresses the quintessential meeting of art and music: the album cover. Jessica DeCuir of San Antonio's Hyperbubble deconstructs the covers of Blondie's Parallel Lines, Men at Work's Business as Usual and the Rolling Stones' Tattoo You into a cool, abstract grid. Through August 7. 140 Heights, 713-861-5526. – TS


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