Capsule Art Reviews: "Amy Blakemore: Photographs 1988-2008," "Carlos Runcie-Tanaka: Fragmento," "Detritus," "$timulus," "Toil and Trouble"

"Amy Blakemore: Photographs 1988-2008" The photographs Amy Blakemore takes with a crappy plastic camera can make you cry. Dad (1999) is an image from this exhibition, a 20-year survey of the artist's work at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The entire time I was in the gallery, people kept stopping and lingering in front of the photo Blakemore took of her father, Robert Blakemore, just after he died. Images of death lure people in, but usually it's the shocking photojournalistic kind. This simple, quiet picture dunks your head in a bucket of loss. Every photo captures a particular moment in time, but Blakemore's capture concentrated doses of human experience. If you know her work at all, you probably know that she shoots her photographs exclusively with a Diana camera. The Diana is a 1960s plastic camera made in Hong Kong by the "Great Wall Plastic Factory." The Diana was so cheap, it was given away as a carnival prize. But the sheer crappiness of the camera is part of the appeal. Its inherent defects — the photos it produces are vignetted and blurry, with low-contrast, oddly colored images — yield haunting images in Blakemore's hands. Amy Blakemore should be a lot better known than she is. Her work merits it. But she's a solid, thoughtful artist, not a careerist, as low-key and unassuming as her work and her choice of camera equipment. This survey, sensitively curated by the MFAH's Alison de Lima Greene, is well deserved. Through September 13. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK

"Carlos Runcie-Tanaka: Fragmento" Runcie-Tanaka, a native of Peru with Japanese and British heritage, makes ceramic sculpture that integrates his many cultural influences — which are indeed indicative of Peru. According to the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, the works function as symbols of spiritual growth and interethnic unity. It's unfortunate that the museum's installation tries too hard to emphasize those aspects. The dark, solemn lighting is fine — one work, Tiempo Detenido, actually requires it (and it's used to great effect). But the cheesy Peruvian flute music that permeates the gallery detracts from the universal nature of the sculptures as objects, and beautiful ones. Huayco/Kawa/Rio is a series of spherical forms incorporating shards of broken pottery that references Japanese ceramics. Manto continues the fragment theme; it's a low glass case displaying a layer of pottery shards that have been haphazardly pieced back together interspersed with forms that look as if they were purposely slumped in the kiln. It's an interesting piece to consider, but it's loaded by its environment to suggest a spiritual mystery that somehow cheapens its fascination in chaos. You may find yourself, as I did, wandering around to find the source of those damn flutes. Through October 18. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. — TS

"Detritus" Painter Angela Beloian and sculptor Jessica Moon Bernstein both employ discarded materials in their work. They're also both Colorado-based artists and take inspiration from environmental concerns. Recycling materials is a way for them to mitigate mass consumerism, but there's nothing overtly activist in the works on view in "Detritus." Bernstein's Inflatable Detritus Rabbit, made from plastic grocery bags and kept aloft by an air motor, and Well Hung, a conglomeration of penile forms made from inner tubes and wooden balls, score for their outright silliness. Beloian is more concerned with enhancing unwanted objects with oddly organic logic. Superstar is a series of 34 vinyl record sleeves obscured with bright-colored ink and gouache that allows the viewer only the vaguest hint of the recording artist/album. (I could only make out the Grateful Dead and the soundtrack to the film Times Square.) The sleeves are not only recycled, but also stripped of reference to their previous incarnations. Also worthwhile is another exhibition of recent paintings by El Franco Lee II, "Visual Harassment." The exaggerated works imagine events like Hurricane Katrina, the autopsy of Tupac Shakur and the dragging death of James Byrd with grim humor and grisly horror. On view through August 28. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — TS

"$timulus" DiverseWorks is presenting the most recent round of Houston Artadia award winners, and it's a mixed bag. Katrina Moorhead's Sudden and Exaggerated Movement in a Wilderness is a misstep, but other works in this stimulus package deliver. Katy Heinlein's work has matured since a 2008 show at CTRL Gallery; she creates architectural forms using fabric and unseen structures that achieve deceptive interplays of tension and gravity. Two large-scale renditions of fictitious comic-book covers by Dawolu Jabari Anderson score for their satiric portrayals of Black Americana icons. Interdisciplinary artist Lynne McCabe contributes a tense video that tests both performer and viewer with 14 hrs., in which she sets up a narrow beam, like a tightrope, between two low platforms and attempts to walk back and forth across it while she recites a speech. El Franco Lee II rounds out the exhibition's best work with a series of stunning paintings and drawings that blur reality and fiction. Ultimately, the exhibition lives up to its dollar sign augmented title, "$timulus," and makes the case for unfettered support of artists. Through August 15. 1117 East Fwy., 713-223-8346. — TS

"Toil and Trouble" This curious exhibit spotlights seven artists whose work incorporates themes of chaos, the supernatural and a kind of ritualistic handling of technique. Virtually all the artists involved score on some level; it's strong work all around. Standouts include Robyn O'Neil, who delivers a set of recent drawings depicting tiny bodies and heads either interacting with, or floating against, hallucinatory images of weather or the elements, nicely composed by utilizing vast spaces of white paper. Pamela Chapman paints sections of riverbanks, elegantly rendered pools of swirling water, vegetation and debris, like trash, a pink comb and confetti, transforming otherwise banal subjects into strange abstractions. Emilio Perez's acrylic and latex paintings embody both the streetwise edge of graffiti and comic-book graphics. He meticulously cuts away layers of paint to reveal inherent patterns and abstract logistics that represent rapidly fluctuating chaos. And Natasha Bowdoin culls inspiration from literature for her incredibly intricate paper works that seem to somehow translate text into complicated 3-D textures and layers, like she's channeling a book's psychic shape and wavelength. Mind-boggling stuff. Through August 16. CTRL Gallery, 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. — TS

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer
Troy Schulze
Contact: Troy Schulze