Capsule Art Reviews: "Claire Ankenman: Phase," "Daniel Heimbinder: Story," "Maurizio Cattelan," "Steve Wolfe on Paper," "The White Album"

"Claire Ankenman: Phase" Claire Ankenman makes intriguing mixed-media works that probe the question "What am I looking at?" Her previous show at Moody Gallery, "Slices," was a literally penetrating series that examined the effects of cutting different surfaces and materials, and the wound-like inflictions that resulted. Here, she experiments with covering and concealing. As can best be determined, Ankenman has mounted wooden rings containing pastel-colored material to the wall and covered them with a sheet of frosted plastic, obscuring the shapes and allowing light to alter the dimensions. They look like a collection of celestial eggs or magnified cells. Besides being endlessly fascinating to look at, it's also tempting to peek at the pieces' true identities, since the plastic sheets aren't attached at the bottom. It would be easy to simply lift the sheet and look. I resisted, however. I didn't want to ruin the mystery. Through July 3. Moody Gallery, 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911. — TS

"Daniel Heimbinder: Story" Cheetos, pink monsters, crystal vases and bell-bottomed pants are the major characters in Houston artist Daniel Heimbinder's "Story," presented by cool Montrose house/gallery the Joannex. One marker-on-paper series depicts slews of plaid pants legs and boots slung over the edges of walls, into deep pits and piled over each other. Odd subject matter, to be sure, but it gets weirder. Wrinkly humanoid figures commit bizarre acts of violence in a group of impressive watercolor works. The spindly, mummy-like beings go mano a mano, with comic-book-style action swooshes, but it's what happens when these things pick up weapons that gets messy. Turns out these creatures are walking piñatas full of Cheetos. In one piece, a Cheeto-man is disemboweled and the bright-orange snacks pour forth from his belly. In another, one Cheeto-man hacks another straight through the head/neck/torso with a brutal-looking "razor-whip," releasing the crunchy innards. Standing guard over the Cheeto gladiators, in the next room, are two giant, hot-pink gargoyles, along with a series of black velvet paintings of crystal glasses and vessels. It's delightfully baffling work that makes us curious to see more of Heimbinder's strange and imaginative imagery. Through July 5. 1401 Branard, 713-825-1803. — TS

"Maurizio Cattelan" It's tempting to think that artist Maurizio Cattelan is putting one over on The Menil Collection. The Italian sculptor's works often tease art-world conventions and mock institutional authority. What's happened, though, in the delightful exhibition "Maurizio Cattelan," is a perfect harmony of two voices, the artist's and the institution's. Always smart in its approach to curation, the Menil has allowed Cattelan to make selections from the collection to display in juxtaposition with his own works, as well as install pieces within the museum's permanent exhibits. The result is a building-wide scavenger hunt that yields some pretty thrilling moments. And ironically, the Menil plays the trickster by figuring out an ingenious way to make patrons who only show up for the rotating exhibits check out the permanent ones again. There may not be a more perfect place for this experiment — Cattelan is a self-taught artist and was influenced greatly by surrealism. If one begins exploring the Menil at the west side of the building, Cattelan literally spells it out for us by choosing to display Joseph Kosuth's 1967 painting Titled. In white letters on a black canvas is the definition of the word "meaning." The majority of the Cattelan works on display are untitled, so introducing the definition of "meaning" seems to imply "abandon all hope of." The exhibition's major work is Cattelan's All, nine human figures lying horizontally on the floor that appear to be covered with white sheets — at least, that's what your brain tells you when you walk into the room. Closer inspection reveals a material of significantly greater substance. Another Cattelan work resides near a selection from Warhol's Electric Chair series. (You have to look for it.) And inside the surrealism galleries, find the hanging, upside-down hand with its fingers cut off (except for the middle one). Cattelan's summation of Dada, perhaps? Through August 15. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS

"Steve Wolfe on Paper" "Steve Wolfe on Paper" is an interesting counterpoint to the "MANUAL on Books" exhibit at Moody Gallery. While the Moody show is essentially photographs of books, this Menil exhibit showcases Wolfe's trompe-l'oeil objects that "trick the eye," and which are largely depictions of books. Wolfe's best-known works look like worn-out paperbacks of titles like Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea and Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, made from wood, modeling paste, oil paint and screen print. They are exact replicas, down to their distressed spines, dog-eared corners and torn covers. Also on display are Wolfe's studies on paper for the objects, incredibly detailed drawings and screen prints of book covers, poster art and photographs, sometimes on their own and other times as collage — tributes to cultural heroes like J.D. Salinger, Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett and, of course, Andy Warhol, to whom Wolfe is perhaps most indebted. Don't miss Wolfe's reproductions of vinyl records, made from oil, enamel and graphite. It's the mass-made made handmade. Through July 25. The Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS

"The White Album" There's nothing Beatlesque about this show, but as the title suggests, the color white plays a large part. The ten works on display are drained of color, emphasizing negative space and textural elements. Jill Moser's oil-on-canvas In the White City utilizes an interesting brush-stroke technique that renders closely grouped lines in a pleasing abstract pattern. Mark Williams's Homage to White is a tall canvas with whitewashed rectangular fields of gray and blue that feels more like an homage to any number of post-war abstract artists. Most interesting are Joseph Cohen's Proposition 5 and 6, two rectangular works on birch wood, covered with a thick layer of latex, enamel and epoxy. The gently textured white surface imitates weathered stone. The slightly bent edges are covered in a rainbow of paint drippings dappled with drips of white, and an oozy yellow residue coats the outer sides. Most puzzling is Joseph Marioni's White Painting, which is actually yellow. The largest and most expensive piece on display, it's also the one most likely to polarize viewers, since it contains no visible skill level other than the ability to use a paint roller, and badly at that. It's the type of work that embodies the most farcical elements of contemporary art. The ones people point to when satirizing the art world. Through June 30. Wade Wilson Art, 4411 Montrose, 713-521-2977. — TS

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Troy Schulze
Contact: Troy Schulze