Capsule Art Reviews: "Bjørn Båsen: Tainted Tales," "California Cool,"

"Heimir Björgúlfsson: The Classical," "Tony Smith: Drawings"

"Bjørn Båsen: Tainted Tales" Bjørn Båsen's "Tainted Tales" at Anya Tish Gallery presents surreal paintings of antique china objects so odd and distorted, they look like a 19th-century housewife's laudanum-fueled daydream. And speaking of laudanum, Lewis Carroll is another influence here. In Taffel I (Wonderland) (2011), blue and white, delftware-like china objects cast the silhouette of a caterpillar perched on a mushroom and smoking a hookah. The whole thing is set within a rounded, china-walled interior printed with blue flowers. Barely visible on the painting's surface is a bas-relief snippet of cursive text, apparently from Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Båsen's strange environments, executed with a shiny hyperrealism, are simultaneously engaging and unsettling. Through March 19. 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299. — KK

"California Cool" Peel Gallery is offering up some "California Cool" in its current show of artists and designers who channel the 20th century, blending in some hip L.A. irony. The architecture firm Marmol Radziner presents some covetable low-slung, sleek chairs that riff on modernist icons as well a re-edition of a 1942 Rudolph Schindler chair. Meanwhile, the artist and graphic designer Geoff Mc­Fetridge has some quirky paintings as well as great wallpaper designs that sort of look like something you saw in the '70s, but way cooler. Adam Silverman is the standout with his belle laide (beautiful ugly) ceramics. Reminiscent of roughly textured mid-century art pottery, his vessels push that idea to the limit. Silverman's pots look like they've had smallpox or gone through ritual scarification. Pink Large Crackle Vase is a black rounded form with pink, frankly pustule-like lumps bursting though the surface. It sounds horrible, but there is something gorgeously riveting about it, a blend of attraction and repulsion. You want to touch it, but then you're too grossed out. Who knew pottery could be so provocative? Through March 19. 4411 Montrose, 713-520-8122. — KK

"Heimir Björgúlfsson: The Classical" Elements from the natural world become characters in the collages of Heimir Björgúlfsson. Björgúlfsson cuts out photos of things like rocks and plants and inserts them into various photographic settings. Giant hunks of mineral ore appear to inch along aerial telephone lines like commandos. Chunks of cactus stand like tourists posing for a photo in front of a stunning mountain backdrop. Two rocks levitate high in the air, each just touching the other as if pausing to kiss while viewing the surf below them. As formally lovely as it is endearingly strange, Björgúlfsson's highly original work inspires a multitude of narratives. Through April 2. CTRL Gallery, 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. – KK

"Tony Smith: Drawings" Tony Smith's geometric steel sculptures are included in pretty much every modern art survey text — his drawings, not so much. And that's a shame, because they're pretty amazing. "Tony Smith: Drawings" is a little gem of a show curated by Bernice Rose, chief curator of the Menil Drawing Institute and Study Center, and focusing on work executed between 1953 and 1955, early in Smith's artistic career. In charcoal or colored pastel on brown paper, the drawings have abstract forms with a biomorphic vibe and sense of sculptural solidity. In a number of them, circular shapes cluster like molecules or morph and divide like microorganisms. The biggest surprise, for those familiar with the artist's monochromatic 3D work, is Smith's masterful use of vibrant color. It's a 50-year-old palette that feels surprisingly contemporary. April 3. The Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — KK

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer