Capsule Art Reviews: "Defending Democracy," "Neo HooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith," "(Re)Vision: A Preservation of Houston's Inner Loop"

"Defending Democracy" "Defending Democracy" displays work by artists who share the belief that art can be a catalyst for change. The show includes political graphic art of former Black Panther Minister of Culture Emory Douglas, the murals and prints of the anonymous artist collective ASARO and the "teach-in" installation of Houston's own Otabenga Jones and Associates. The installation of Douglas's work contains rows of display cases with copies of The Black Panther weekly that he personally laid out and designed. On the walls are posters of his work, as well as his manifestos calling progressive artists to arms, along with other materials. In the front gallery of the Station are the graffitied stencil murals and prints of Asamblea de Artistas Revolucionarios de Oaxaca (ASARO), a collective of artists and arts groups formed in response to government oppression in Oaxaca. ASARO's guerilla artists spray-paint stenciled murals throughout the city in support of the populace's cause. The Otabenga Jones and Associates installation El Shabazz High School Gym is a re-creation of a high school gym complete with a scoreboard, bleachers and a basketball hoop. A projection screen stands opposite the bleachers, and a few posters are taped to the walls. I hesitate to say this, but the offerings of Otabenga Jones and Associates seemed like six degrees of separation from the revolutionary work of Douglas, and maybe five degrees away from ASARO. Otabenga Jones and crew need to get out of the museum setting and metaphorically kick ass against oppression. Through September 14. Station Museum of Contemporary Art, 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. — BS

"Neo HooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith" Organized by Franklin Sirmans, Menil curator of modern and contemporary art, this exhibition is one of the most compelling Houston has seen in a long time. The artists in "Neo HooDoo" come from across the Americas, and much of their work is rooted in both African and indigenous practices, and also inspired by European culture. Cuban-born María Magdalena Campos-Pons's beautiful triptych When I am not here/ Estoy Allá (1997) is laden with symbolic imagery from both worlds. It consists of three large-scale Polaroids displayed vertically, all with tones of rich indigo blue, a reference to the practice of trading slaves for bolts of indigo cloth. In Storm at Sea (2007), New Jersey-born Radcliffe Bailey has created an installation that emits an almost inexplicable energy. A statue of an African goddess stands in the corner of the gallery, facing out toward a tempestuous sea created out of hundreds of dislodged piano keys. The area immediately surrounding her seems preternaturally calm. Oppression of other peoples is not a thing of the past, as observed by Regina José Galindo, a video artist and activist from Ciudad de Guatemala with three videos on display. In Confession (2007), her head is repeatedly held underwater for long periods of time by a big, burly man. There's also 150,000 Voltos (2007), in which she is Tasered by a man until she falls down, and Liempza Social (2006), in which the naked Galindo is sprayed with a high-pressure hose until she is knocked down, cold and obviously in pain. Of course, unlike the helpless and often innocent victims at Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib, Galindo could ask her tormentor to stop at any time. "Neo HooDoo" is such a great show, it would be a sin not to see it. Through September 21. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — BS

"(Re)Vision: A Preservation of Houston's Inner Loop" Shannon Duncan's odd installation is a kind of memorial to the passing of a product and to residential real estate. In February, Polaroid stopped producing instant film — a seriously profound event in consumer culture, when you think about it. So Duncan decided to preserve, in a way, Houston's Inner Loop residencies in states of flux, using the newly outdated film. Through searching, Duncan found Inner Loop houses and properties that were being demolished or were undergoing construction, drove to those sites and took snapshots. Many photos include piles of rubble, lumber, Port-O-Potties and Dumpsters, while others are simply vacant lots. Some pictures depict fully constructed houses; perhaps those have been scheduled for demolition. On the wall, Duncan arranged the photos in vertical rows of three, in order, according to Zip Code. Altogether, they form a random pattern that almost resembles a key. Duncan also has included items she recovered from some of the sites, random ephemera like an LL Cool J cassette, a karate trophy, Happy Meal toys, slides of someone's vacation to Machu Picchu and, of course, Polaroids. You will be missed. Through September 27. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — TS

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Troy Schulze
Contact: Troy Schulze
Beth Secor