Art Capsule Reviews: "Chemical City," "David McGee: El Soñador Elegante," "Practice Makes Perfect" and "To 25!"

"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

"David McGee: El Soñador Elegante," Shown in conjunction with "To 25!" is David McGee's "El Soñador Elegante" (The Elegant Dreamer), a Don Quixote-themed exhibition that also can be read as a meditation on DiverseWorks' history. The main gallery foyer is a kind of preparatory room for the show. McGee's beautiful watercolors, big dramatic images with a title underneath, have a graphic quality to them, like minimalist posters. Moving into the main gallery, there's El Moor, a striking watercolor of a horse's skeleton with a bloody sword running through it, which might be a reference to El Cid. The name "ROSINANTE" whooshes across one long wall of the main gallery, alluding to Quixote's trusted horse. A huge, deconstructed windmill anchors the room. Visitors can duck inside it and view a video with an audio loop. On the way out, take a close look at Valencia Dulcinea del Taboso. Dulcinea was the object of Quixote's love, and here she's represented by an amorphous brass sculpture. But what's that tiny image plastered to her surface? It's a miniature Censorship, a piece that was stolen from DiverseWorks and never recovered. It may be the most overt reference to DiverseWorks in McGee's exhibit, and it's sweet. It's proof that while DiverseWorks has grown as an organization and ballooned in reputation (like Quixote himself), it hasn't lost sight of its dreams. Through October 20. 1117 E. Freeway, 713-223-8346. — TS

"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

"To 25!" This exhibition marks DiverseWorks' 25th anniversary as an organization. It's easy to lose track of time browsing the rows of specimens documenting practically every event or happening that occurred at DiverseWorks since 1985 — every art exhibit, every performance, every fund-raiser, every social event. It's interesting to see how the publicity changes, the layouts, the calendars. There's even a table of promotional slides lit from underneath and viewable with a loupe. If you've got all day, there are shelves of press clippings in binders to search through; a table and two chairs have been provided for comfort. Troubling moments pepper the exhibit. Rachel Hecker's exterior work Censorship, a male with conservative haircut being punched in the face by a gloved fist, became an icon of DiverseWorks. Sadly, the piece was stolen and never recovered. One flyer, from 1986, hypes a "Meet Spalding Gray" book signing, sponsored by DiverseBooks. There's an "aw, man" moment when one is reminded of Gray's recent suicide. Through October 20. 1117 E. Freeway, 713-223-8346. — TS

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Troy Schulze
Contact: Troy Schulze