Capsule Art Reviews: "California Cool," "Christian Eckart: The Absurd Vehicle & Other Propositions," "Plenitude," "Timothy Greenfield-Sanders: Injured Soldiers and Marines," "Tony Smith: Drawings"

"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

"Christian Eckart: The Absurd Vehicle & Other Propositions" Christian Eckart is an artist who walks the line between painting and sculpture, creating three-dimensional wall-mounted works that read like paintings. He's got some interesting pieces on view at McClain Gallery. In some, sheets of aluminum appear to have been neatly folded and unfolded, giving them an egg crate-like texture; Eckart scores some surfaces with lines and paints others with the sleek, glossy, color-shifting paint used on custom cars. There's also some especially nice work in which a network of glass triangles hang from the ceiling against a wall. The dichroic glass changes from transparent to reflective with glorious shifts in color as you move past. The most massive piece in the show is The Absurd Vehicle (2006-2011), an aptly named free-standing sculpture. It's a metal, oblong, funnel-like form that basically looks like a purple orifice resting on a wheeled frame. Its inside is gorgeously painted with the same glossy automotive paint, here fading from orange to magenta to lavender. The tiny, treadless racing wheels and abundance of chrome continue the car-culture references, but the wheels are nonfunctional – they only move the sculpture in a circle. And the "orifice" has a very 2D orientation; it feels like Eckart has stuck one of his wall works on wheels in the middle of the room. If you walk around the unpainted sides or raw-edge back, it seems like something you aren't supposed to be seeing. Maybe that's part of the absurdity, but it just comes across as pointlessly overproduced, with a lack of 3D awareness. Through March 5. McClain Gallery, 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — KK

"Plenitude" "Plenitude" is a big group show of "emerging and established artists," and as such, it's a well-chosen grab bag of nice work. Among the standouts is Hoary Squeezy Conversation (2010) by Annie Lapin. The artist uses paint in a way that is engaging and modern — it looks alternately brushed and squeegeed on — while the imagery looks simultaneously abstract and representational. And speaking of "abstract," Joe Davidson's Abstract (2005) is a collection of small cylindrical forms with a twist. They look like lovely little jars cast from wax or carved from alabaster, but actually they're hollow, featherweight forms made from Scotch tape. Meanwhile, Gavin Perry's painting Mother do you wanna bang heads with me (2008-2010) delivers glossy color in orange and yellow pours of resin so vibrantly colored they look molten. Through March 5. Barbara Davis Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — KK

"Timothy Greenfield-Sanders: Injured Soldiers and Marines" In Timothy Greenfield-Sanders's photograph Danielle Green-Byrd, Specialist, U.S. Army, an attractive young black woman in a pale-blue button-down and low-rise trousers smiles at the camera. She's holding her prosthetic forearm in front of her. This October, the United States is coming up on more that ten continuous years of war. The fact that we are at war ebbs and flows through the consciousness of most of us in the general public. But the people who have been irreparably injured by war can't forget. In a project commissioned by HBO in conjunction with the documentary Alive Day Memories, Greenfield-Saunders took this series of unflinching portraits of young men and women disfigured and maimed by war. They confront Greenfield-Saunders's camera calmly and directly, not asking for pity but asking us to see them for who they are and what they have survived. Through March 2. Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery, 4520 Blossom St., 713-863-7097. — 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