Art Capsule Reviews

"Allison Hunter: New Animals" "New Animals" is a continuation of Allison Hunter's "Simply Stunning" series, which showed at New York's 511 Gallery last year. The Houston-based photographer's recent work concentrates largely on animals, and the images reflect a progression toward emancipating creatures from the worldly environment. Sheep and deer inhabit pinkish-gray realms that resemble threatening desert sandscapes, and yet the animals' tameness and passivity feel amplified, more so than if they were depicted in a natural setting. Some photos feature lone animals encased in blackness, like Untitled 10, in which a sole chicken, brightly illuminated by an unknown source, stalks the ground for food against almost invisible traces of its farm environment. In Untitled 7, a miniature horse proudly sports its red saddle (unencumbered by screaming children, maybe?) below a starless void. The effect is a kind of Usher Syndrome — a condition in which the deaf develop an encroaching blindness — of nature and logic, except in Hunter's world circumstances aren't in disorder. On the contrary, the animals seem right at home in their non-universe. Though August 17. MKG Art Management, 2825 Colquitt, 713-526-4146.

"Everyday People: 20th Century Photography from the Menil Collection" In 1956, the de Menils brought the legendary "The Family of Man" to Houston's Contemporary Arts Association [Museum]. It was a landmark show, but the Edward Steichen-curated exhibition evidenced an idealistic and hokey "It's a Small World" brand of humanism. The show inspired the de Menils as photography collectors, but their collection was also shaped by their interest in issues of social justice. The photographs of "Everyday People: 20th Century Photography from the Menil Collection," curated by Franklin Sirmans, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Menil Collection, presents a much more blunt, realistic view of the world. The photographs span socioeconomic and ethnic groups and present images of hookers, mourners, communists, pool players, Nazis, newlyweds, protesters, nuns, soldiers, prisoners and more by legendary photographers such as James Van Der Zee, Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Sirmans has clustered the photographs salon-style on the walls like family photos. But unlike the typical display of family photos, he threw in all the relatives no one talks about. Through April 29. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.

"Perspectives 155: Francesca Fuchs" In her first museum exhibition, Francesca Fuchs focuses on all things domestic. Fuchs's earlier paintings of breast-feeding babies were a revolutionary take on motherhood, presenting a smart and coolly abstracted take on the most sentimental of images. In the current show, she expands her focus to the whole infant as well as the home, painting them all in the most muted and restrained of tones. Fuchs offers monumental images of tiny infants, only recently released from uterine confines, their legs still bent and froglike. She also renders a loving portrait of a lonely pink chest of drawers, paints a kitchen near life-size, and records a woman lying in a hospital bed. In other hands, these kinds of images could easily become treacly or seem too self-involved. But in Fuchs's hands, they are splendid — visually sophisticated but infused with empathy for and fascination with the domestic world. Through April 29. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.


"Allison Hunter: New Animals"

"The Pump that Jack Used" "Since 2001, the top five oil companies in the United States have recorded profits of $342.4 billion through the first quarter of 2006," reads Anthony Thompson Shumate's artist's book The Pump that Jack used. Mimicking a children's picture book sponsored by a fictitious oil company, The Pump follows oil from source to consumer, and it's part of his installation by the same name at the Art League Houston. In his research, Shumate discovered that many of the same 15 people sit on the boards of the top five oil companies; his exhibition includes flow charts and portraits of desk chairs to symbolize the 15. Shumate is following in the investigative art footsteps of the late artist Mark Lombardi, whose drawings diagrammed the players of political and business scandals. Last year, Shumate gave us Club Gitmo, an evening that sardonically presented the Guant#135namo Bay detention facility as a resort (guests ate detainee meals with a safety spork). Shumate, who was in advertising and has six ADDY awards under his belt, can flawlessly imitate corporate-identity materials, and he's relying on that skill a little too heavily. He's got some intriguing ideas, but he needs to push them further. Through April 27. The Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530.

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