Capsule Art Reviews: "Detritus", "Existed: Leonardo Drew", "$timulus", "Toil and Trouble"

"Detritus" Painter Angela Beloian and sculptor Jessica Moon Bernstein both employ discarded materials in their work. They're also both Colorado-based artists and take inspiration from environmental concerns. Recycling materials is a way for them to mitigate mass consumerism, but there's nothing overtly activist in the works on view in "Detritus." Bernstein's Inflatable Detritus Rabbit, made from plastic grocery bags and kept aloft by an air motor, and Well Hung, a conglomeration of penile forms made from inner tubes and wooden balls, score for their outright silliness. Beloian is more concerned with enhancing unwanted objects with oddly organic logic. Superstar is a series of 34 vinyl record sleeves obscured with bright-colored ink and gouache that allows the viewer only the vaguest hint of the recording artist/album. (I could only make out the Grateful Dead and the soundtrack to the film Times Square.) The sleeves are not only recycled, but also stripped of reference to their previous incarnations. Also worthwhile is another exhibition of recent paintings by El Franco Lee II, "Visual Harassment." The exaggerated works imagine events like Hurricane Katrina, the autopsy of Tupac Shakur and the dragging death of James Byrd with grim humor and grisly horror. On view through August 28. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — TS

"Existed: Leonardo Drew" This exhibition, on view at the Blaffer Gallery and curated by director Claudia Schmuckli, presents a mid-career survey of Leonardo Drew's work. The artist's aesthetic is influenced by the junk he played with as a kid in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Even when he builds things new, he artificially ages them — rusting metal, shredding fabric, gouging wood. He scavenges for many of his objects and materials, taking a shopping cart out onto the streets of New York. Drew hand-built each of the 880 boxes in his sculpture Number 43 (1994). They are packed tightly together, stacked into an imperfect grid against the wall. Grubby, rust-dusted scraps of fabric are jammed inside them; twisted fragments trail out of some; others have fabric stretched over the top, sealing them closed. Cutting wood and nailing together simple wooden boxes is the kind of tedious, labor-intensive task most successful artists would delegate to a studio assistant. Drew is an extremely successful artist, but he's not the kind of guy who relies on others to do grunt work. Manual labor — his own — is at the core of Drew's work. In 1992, he was invited to participate in the Senegal biennial, an experience that would deeply affect his work. While there, the African-American artist visited Gorée Island, a trading post for millions of Africans sold into slavery. They would be held for up to a year in horrific and claustrophobic conditions. Drew was deeply moved by these confined spaces that had contained so much suffering. The hundreds of boxes of Number 43 had to have grown out of that experience. In that context, it reads like rows of internment niches, and the labor Drew puts into his work makes even more sense. Crafting each box with your own hands is a meditation on, and a memorial to, the suffering at Gorée Island. Through August 15. 120 Fine Arts Building, University of Houston, 713-743-9530. — KK

"$timulus" DiverseWorks is presenting the most recent round of Houston Artadia award winners, and it's a mixed bag. Katrina Moorhead's Sudden and Exaggerated Movement in a Wilderness is a misstep, but other works in this stimulus package deliver. Katy Heinlein's work has matured since a 2008 show at CTRL Gallery; she creates architectural forms using fabric and unseen structures that achieve deceptive interplays of tension and gravity. Two large-scale renditions of fictitious comic-book covers by Dawolu Jabari Anderson score for their satiric portrayals of Black Americana icons. Interdisciplinary artist Lynne McCabe contributes a tense video that tests both performer and viewer with 14 hrs., in which she sets up a narrow beam, like a tightrope, between two low platforms and attempts to walk back and forth across it while she recites a speech. El Franco Lee II rounds out the exhibition's best work with a series of stunning paintings and drawings that blur reality and fiction. Ultimately, the exhibition lives up to its dollar sign augmented title, "$timulus," and makes the case for unfettered support of artists. Through August 15. 1117 East Fwy., 713-223-8346. — TS

"Toil and Trouble" This curious exhibit spotlights seven artists whose work incorporates themes of chaos, the supernatural and a kind of ritualistic handling of technique. Virtually all the artists involved score on some level; it's strong work all around. Standouts include Robyn O'Neil, who delivers a set of recent drawings depicting tiny bodies and heads either interacting with, or floating against, hallucinatory images of weather or the elements, nicely composed by utilizing vast spaces of white paper. Pamela Chapman paints sections of riverbanks, elegantly rendered pools of swirling water, vegetation and debris, like trash, a pink comb and confetti, transforming otherwise banal subjects into strange abstractions. Emilio Perez's acrylic and latex paintings embody both the streetwise edge of graffiti and comic-book graphics. He meticulously cuts away layers of paint to reveal inherent patterns and abstract logistics that represent rapidly fluctuating chaos. And Natasha Bowdoin culls inspiration from literature for her incredibly intricate paper works that seem to somehow translate text into complicated 3-D textures and layers, like she's channeling a book's psychic shape and wavelength. Mind-boggling stuff. Through August 16. CTRL Gallery, 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. — TS

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer
Troy Schulze
Contact: Troy Schulze