Capsule Art Reviews: "Donald Baechler: Sculptures and Paintings," "First Take: Okay Mountain," "Heimir Bjorgulfsson: The Classical," "Tony Smith: Drawings"

"Donald Baechler: Sculptures and Paintings" Like a kindergartner, Donald Baechler always seems to be painting with a brush that's way too big. But the artist somehow manages to channel the "childlike" without getting hokey, and he's offering up his appealingly lumpy work at McClain Gallery. His series of flower paintings, crudely rendered black silhouettes on gloppy grounds, are nice but get a little repetitive. The real standouts in the show are Baechler's absurdly flat bronze sculptures. A misshapen teacup sprouts roughly formed tulips when viewed from the front, but when you walk to the side, the work practically disappears. It's a really witty piece, and there's a wonderful consistency between the paintings and the sculptures — the 3D works look like they were cut straight from the artist's canvases. April 30. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — KK

"First Take: Okay Mountain" Parodying self-help gurus, religious cults and creepy corporate "team building," the Austin artist collective Okay Mountain has brought its incisive yet engagingly goofball work to the Blaffer Art Museum. In a projected video, a woman in gray-ish clothing speaks to you in hypnotically soothing tones, giving detailed instructions on everything from relaxation to communal cooking to furniture assembly. It could just as easily be the DVD for a cult handbook as a Fortune 500 employee orientation video. Meanwhile, Trust Staircase is a wheeled wooden staircase leading to nowhere. Its treads are covered with glowing "coals." At the front of each step, illuminated sentences present assertive statements like "Your mind is calm" and "You can choose your own fate." Behind the staircase is a mattress with a rough target painted on it. It's a smart, perceptive and funny installation. Okay Mountain could easily take a page from L. Ron Hubbard and start its own freakin' religion. Through April 2. Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston, 120 Fine Arts Building, 713-743-9521. — 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