Capsule Art Reviews: "A Visceral Valentine," "Death and Shit Like That," "Perspectives 159: Superconscious, Automatisms Now," "Tony Berlant"

"A Visceral Valentine" More visceral than valentine, the current group show at Apama Mackey Gallery delivers a darkly comic look at love. Riffing on the February 14 holiday, there's also an exploration of color, particularly red and pink, on display here. Jennifer Tong's comic book panel A Romance depicts a young woman and her talking frog "boyfriend" going for a walk in the woods. She takes a nap in the grass, and bestial mythological molestation ensues; it's cute! Kuro Unagi (the artist's name is literally a species of freshwater eel) takes us to the disturbing side of animal love with a series of women engaging in sex acts with, you guessed it, eels. Think Patrick Nagel as a demented schoolboy, doodling in detention. Lisa Alisa contributes some colorful and visually engaging acrylic paintings of Asian females in various communions with animals. You can't miss Marcus Adams's airbrushed acrylic Three Legged Hermaphrodite; the deranged, grotesque Kewpie-doll-headed freak feels ever-present in the tiny gallery. And Yuka Yamaguchi's twisted illustrations of a little schoolgirl playing mutilation games with a giant rooster just might make your viscera a little queasy. Through March 23. 628 E 11th St., 713-850-8527. — TS

"Death and Shit Like That" This gathering of drawings at Domy Books shows Houston street artist YAR! has many friends who can tug the heart with just the flick of a pen. Curator YAR! communicates regularly with these prolific, inspiring artists — who hail from the Netherlands, Spain, France, Argentina, Massachusetts, Houston and Florida — on the Web site Flickr. There are clear connections between these works that transcend locale. Local artist Seth Alverson's ominous painting of an open coffin looms over the show, but the walls are covered in a smattering of smaller works on paper. There are the sensuous watercolors and disembodied dream world of Ola Vasiljeva; more concrete figures by Stéphane Prigent and Frédéric Fleury, cartoonish bodies with layers of loose color and rivulets of clashing pigment; and Irana Douer's beautifully simple female face with pursed lips and closed eyes, copied over and over in different poses in simple line drawings and cut paper. Matt Lock and Dean Sullivan create deeply emotional and paranoid compositions of skulls, bodies and sex with awkward outsider flatness. And Mark Hesterlee uses tribal rituals and pop references in his humorous marker-and-pen drawings. While death figures prominently in many of these artists' styles, they seem more alive than anything. Through March 15. 1709 Westheimer,713-523-3669. — SC

"Perspectives 159: Superconscious, Automatisms Now" This exhibition is comprised of paintings, sculptures, drawings, photography and video by five artists who employ free association in their work. Many of the pieces display an obsessive degree of self-alertness. Sean Landers's Dumb Dumb (from 1993) is a vast horizontal canvas with lines and lines of writing that can be literally tiring to read because of the walking required. And even then, there's just no use. It's more fun to just pick out random snippets. Much of it is boring and repetitive; Landers vacillates between declaring himself the greatest artist on Earth and lamenting his worthlessness. Peppered with sex, Dumb Dumb will occasionally reveal a line like "JOHN, KEVIN AND I JUST FINISHED A BIG DISCUSSION ON '70S NIPPLES." Danica Phelps's drawings carry a similar confessional vibe, but with a filter. Her meticulous vertical calendars document weeks of her life in 2006 down to the minute. Quickly glanced, the works feel numbingly banal. But look closer at Phelps's thin, spidery handwriting, and the narrative begins to emerge. Large chunks of red denote money spent on sperm and insemination. Phelps and her girlfriend, referred to here as "D," are trying to have a child, and they're not exactly on the same page about it. They argue, make love, go to therapy and have the occasional knock-down-drag-out. The exhibit includes sculpture and photography by Rachel Harrison and a 23-minute film by Oliver Payne and Nick Relph. Big surprise, though: The free-associative elements of imagery just aren't as powerfully communicated as they are in words, something rare for visual art. How often do you leave a museum reeling from something you read, rather than what you "saw"? Through March 9. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — TS

Tony Berlant California-based Tony Berlant crafts colorful abstract collages using found tin scraps and fabricated and printed sheet tin. He fixes the pieces of tin to plywood using steel brads. The effect is like a jumbled-up puzzle put together incorrectly, like the pieces were hammered and forced into the wrong places, except Berlant intricately overlaps and massages shapes into his works. It isn't clear where Berlant finds the imagery printed on his fabricated tin, but it looks like cheesy wallpaper design — there are flower motifs, woody scenes with deer antlers, even what look like classic car patterns. Certain pieces employ a central representational image, like the birdlike shape at the center of Nest; others contain a well-scattered coverage of different colors and similar-sized scraps, like Sunny Side. Petrified Forest comes the closest to a recognizable correlation between image and title. Berlant has cleverly composed a realistic rendering of a petrified tree trunk broken in seven pieces. Also surprising is the textural element. The tin actually looks more like synthetic textile, rather than metal. Perhaps the steel brads suggest, in a way, a natural juxtaposition between fabric and metal. It's beautiful work. Through March 29. Texas Gallery, 2012 Peden, 713-524-1593. — TS

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Troy Schulze
Contact: Troy Schulze