Art Capsule Reviews: "Amy Sillman: Suitors and Strangers," "Chemical City," "The David Whitney Bequest" and "Practice Makes Perfect"

"Amy Sillman: Suitors and Strangers" Amy Sillman paints like she's reincarnated from some squirrelly, third-tier 1950s abstractionist. But I mean that in a good way. Sillman's colors — the turquoise blues, the deep oranges, the bright greens — all allude to fave color palettes from half a century ago and give the work a funky vintage feeling. (She's even named a painting with a big lime green blob Shecky Green, an allusion to the hokey mid-century comedian.) Speaking of squirrelly, third-tier artists, the linear brushiness of her strokes is reminiscent of David Adickes's paintings from around that time. But in spite of all that, Sillman's paintings are really good. Her abstraction is vaguely architectural and figural and dominated by a masterful sense of color. The forms of Sillman's paintings evolve on the canvas; they feel hard-won without looking overworked, and her colors emerge strong, separate and unmuddied. Through November 10. The Blaffer Gallery — The Art Museum of the University of Houston, 120 Fine Arts Building, 713-743-9530. — KK

"Chemical City" The chemicals in "Chemical City" are supposedly the metaphorical kind, but in downtown Manhattan during the punk rock and disco heydays, chemicals of the pollution variety as well as mind-altering drugs permeated the lifestyles of art world movers and shakers. At Deborah Colton Gallery, the strongest representation of what made the downtown scene so special is Marianne Vitale's scrap metal and trash sculpture blocking the view of downtown Houston from the gallery's third-story window. It's a dirty, messy work of fence posts, banana leaves and plastic domes surrounding a painting done in crude oil, but there's a feeling of revelry in the debris. Michael Auder and Jonas Meekas display film footage that personalizes the city, a stimulating environment that inspires through its wreckage. Warhol Factory alum Maripol pimps her Polaroids of Debbie Harry, Madonna and others in her circle of friends during the '80s. She softens her subjects — even if a party is raging, she manages to capture quiet, intimate moments. To see the pieces in this show is to be struck by the manic, bygone feel of the old NYC writ large. The alchemic stew of humanity and the decadent, depraved artists took the gritty New York aesthetic and revitalized American art and music, only to see a new, sanitized version of their city take over. Through November 3. 2500 Summer St., third floor, 713-869-5151. — SC

"The David Whitney Bequest" "The David Whitney Bequest," currently on view at the Menil Collection, is a strange little exhibition of works from Whitney's collection, which were bequeathed to the Menil. The show is curious for its double-sided mission. On one hand, it's a wonderful sampling of works by contemporary art legends like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol – and, in a sense, the world and scene they represented. On the other, it's a window into the mind of a collector: Whitney's championing of, and influence on, modern artists. Whitney reserved perhaps the bulk of his interest for Jasper Johns. This exhibit contains 17 works on paper by Johns, spanning the artist's entire career, with works made as recently as 2004. There's also Cy Twombly's Untitled (1959), a pencil on paper squigglefest that, at first, looks like it belongs on a proud parent's refrigerator door. Time spent in reflection is always rewarded with Twombly, though, and the work responds by revealing an intricate, well-composed pattern. Don't miss three of Robert Rauschenberg's early transfer paintings, contemporaneous of Warhol's early silk screens. Ghostly impressions of baseball players, horses and other Texas-inspired imagery haunt the hazy, greenish realms of these works. Not surprisingly, on the opposite wall from the Rauschenbergs is Warhol's 1980 portrait David Whitney. An intense black-and-white snapshot of Whitney with his fingers clasped under his chin, it brilliantly anchors the exhibit. Three tones of gray fan elegantly across the paint­ing, the middle one perfectly zoning Whitney's eyes, which seem to say, "Gaze upon my influence and impeccable taste." Through October 28. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS


Houston art

"Practice Makes Perfect" Curator Jeff Ward has tamed work by the wildly varying artists at the Glassell School into a linear, illuminating exhibit about repetition and reproduction. Amy Lorino's photographs echo each other in form; she concentrates on symmetrical compositions, often focusing on school halls and doorways. Judith Freedman's small bust sculptures vary slightly in each incarnation, lending them underlying personality. Lillian Warren has shown extensively in town while taking classes at the Glassell; her paintings recording familiar views along feeder roads are solid, repetitive and insistent. From the opposite end of the spectrum comes Bobbye Bennett, whose watercolor paintings evoke aboriginal patterning and emotional organic life. But the most exciting project featured is the collaborative Stranger Drawings, realized by Emily Grenader and dozens of Houstonians. Grenader solicited anonymous photographs from people on the street and on Web site Craig's List, then distributed them to artists to create their own versions of the photos. The result is a cacophony of styles as diverse as the people involved, and at the opening the air was buzzing with excitement as the photograph donors first saw what their personal images had become in the hands of artists like David Ubias and Seneca Garcia. Finally, if you missed your opportunity to see the documentary Hot Town, Cool City, take a few minutes and stop by the Glassell to check out Maureen McNamara's documentary on Houston's art scene. Through November 2. 5101 Montrose, 713-639-7500. — SC

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