Capsule Art Reviews: August 7, 2014

"Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris" Charles Marville was an early and prolific photographer of old Paris, commissioned to record the before, during and after of Emperor Napoleon III's radical transformation that remade a medieval city into the first modern one. But these aren't the rose-tinted images of the City of Light we've come to love. Working from the 1850s to the 1870s, Marville made 425 often haunting images of a city about to be, and in the process of being, ripped apart to create the honey-hued boulevards we love today. The streets he shows us are eerily devoid of people. This is partly a result of the technical limitations of early photography — long exposure times meant that people in motion became only ghostly smudges. But the people weren't the point. In fact, the lives lived in those streets were irrelevant — obstacles to be displaced or crushed as the Baron Haussmann carried out the Emperor's orders to re-create Paris as his modern stage for imperial grandeur. We know what Paris would become, but the few people who stand stark still in these photos didn't. The Paris they knew was about to be destroyed, and that tension gives the photos much of their power. Marville didn't often present his photographs as art. For him, photography was a livelihood. But he was an artist to the core, and the art crept in. Through September 14. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300, mfah.org. — RT

"Check Mate" Gil Bruvel's brilliant steel and ceramic chess sets — three of them, each different — dominate the center of the Laura Rathe Fine Art Gallery. They are witty, urbane and beautiful, with an airy, three-dimensional quality, each piece separate and movable. Bruvel's other works are even more powerful — sculptured heads made of stainless steel. Dichotomy presents the head and upper torso of a woman, formed of ribbons of steel, with open spaces between, creating a wind-blown, flowing effect, and making the steel seem fluid and alive. Each side of the face is different, suggesting both a cosmetic disadvantage and a capacity for duplicity. In Rain, the reflection of a man's head begins at the jawline, seemingly a mirror image, but I wondered if the expression in the hooded eyes below was really the same. This could be a Spartan defending a mountain pass. This is a group show, and includes Andreas Nottebohm, considered a master in metal painting. His work here, titled KN-2075, lets us see why. It's an elongated oval, oil painted on aluminum, primarily blue but with shifting elements of green as one moves past it. It suggests water, and has an otherworldly quality, as though it might be a futuristic control panel for a spaceship. It is wonderful. Gian Garofalo creates a series of vertical stripes of varying colors, but with so many stripes and so many colors that the work bursts with energy. Roi James also employs vertical stripes, and his art is colorful, with a soothing, serene quality, almost regal in its quiet authority. This is an exhibition replete with artistic pleasures. Through August 29. 2707 Colquitt, 713-527-7700, laurarathe.com. — JJT

"lntroducing Elizabeth Fox The d.m. allison gallery is dedicated to the exploration of emerging talent, as well as serving as a venue for established artists. Its group show features the works of Elizabeth Fox, whose paintings have a sprightly, highly contemporary look. The men are all fit and the women slender, with great anatomies, made clear by tight-fitting garments. Fox has a dry, subtle wit — Wish You Were Here has an attractive, mature couple in front of a birdhouse on a tree, with flying love birds and apparent domestic tranquility, while a streaming banner gives the woman's actual sardonic thought: "omg not another walk of shame...lol I could just." She is dying with amusement at the folly of men. Mystery Train has a woman putting her attaché case in the overhead rack while four men in a row, wearing suits and fedora hats, read newspapers, though two are secretly watching her. If the men give her any trouble, I have no doubt she can handle it. Jesse Lott is an African-American sculptor of great distinction who works with armatures and wire while building in the capacity for emotional power. His sculpture here dominates the gallery, presenting a man overcome with anguish. One artist, living under a bridge, offers his name as Hercules da Vinci. His Hollywood Hills, oil on a paper napkin, has a charming and subtle blend of colors, some figurative birds, and an insouciant cheerfulness that many might envy. Ann Harithas has a deceptively simple picture, an orange plane against a blue background, with a cowboy, and a tortured monk holding a football, a work as enigmatic as consciousness itself. Though August 30. 2709 Colquitt, 832-607-4378, dma-art.com. — JJT

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Randy Tibbits is an independent art writer and curator, specializing in the art history of Houston. He is a member of the Board of Directors of CASETA: Center for the Advancement and Study of Early Texas Art and the coordinator of HETAG: Houston Earlier Texas Art Group. He writes art exhibition reviews for Houston Press from time to time.