Capsule Art Reviews: "Drawing in Space," "John Alexander: A Retrospective," "Learning by Doing: 25 Years of the Core Program"

"Drawing in Space" For his drawing/performance, "Marker Head Marker" at Lawndale Art Center, Daniel Adame encased his head in a giant chunk of plaster shaped like a huge piece of chalk. He then used his head and its new casing to make a drawing on a blackboard hung on the gallery wall. The piece is a part of the group's exhibition by J Hill. It was, by all accounts, an amazing performance and one that people are still talking about — even people who usually hate performance art. As a visual thing, the resulting drawing is a large, halting and vaguely Twombly-esque spiral scribble. In itself it's nothing to write home about, but as a record of this guy moving the chunk of plaster on his head over its surface, it's pretty incredible. The small group show in Lawndale's mezzanine gallery is filled with drawings created through actions that allow for little control of the finished product. The Art Guys, Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing, showcase their pyromaniac predilections. In one clip, they stick firecrackers and matches to paper and ignite them. In another, they create self-portraits from matches stuck into the wall and almost torch a Swedish gallery. Annette Lawrence presents her rubbings, made from a stack of every unsolicited piece of paper she received for a year. And John Adelman shows the result of his painstaking tracings of a pile of 13,944 nails, along with the 461 component parts of a typewriter. This work is probably the biggest disappointment — the traced objects work fine, but the mottled, painterly background Adelman uses is distracting. Through June 14. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — KK

"John Alexander: A Retrospective" John Alexander is one of those iconic Texans. He's irreverent, opinionated, proud of his Gulf Coast roots and, as evidenced by the work in this exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, a mediocre painter. The first of the exhibition's galleries are dedicated to Alexander's early work, most of it from the '80s. The best that can be said of most of the work is that it is, um, energetic. Alexander's strategy of massing expressive strokes works well to obscure artistic shortcomings. But while the paintings are filled with choppy frenetic marks, they feel repetitive, even when the marks are intermingled with rough, supposedly totemic images of rats or birds or cats or figures. A certain clumsiness of mark and gloppiness of paint are evident in the early work, as well as a bizarre tunnel vision that seems to limit Alexander to centrally oriented compositions. But in the other galleries, things go from mediocre to bad. The figurative works are as all over the place as they are badly painted. In a supposedly biting image of an auction house, rich collectors wear bird masks. The masks look like the ones medieval plague doctors wore, and they are a fixed part of Alexander's shtick. Part of the reason for the masks is that when Alexander does actually paint faces, they're almost always awkwardly cartoonish. The exhibition shifts from the images of people to images of nature, including everything from ham-fisted ecological symbolism to a still life of a lobster that looks like hokey restaurant decor. Through June 22. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK

"Learning by Doing: 25 Years of the Core Program" Travel down memory lane with this exhibition, which presents a selection of work by former Core Fellows. There is some good stuff on view, although some strong former fellows have been omitted. And while the program has garnered its share of local resentment for its general avoidance of "townie" artists over the years, its wide net has yielded some lasting contributions to the Houston art community. As you look at the works and the labels, you are reminded of how many talented Houston artists first came here because of the Core Program — David Aylsworth, Bill Davenport, Sharon Engelstein, Francesca Fuchs, David Fulton, Katrina Moorhead and Aaron Parazette among them. Among the omitted fellows, where would Houston's film and video scene be without Andrea Grover and her microcinema Aurora Picture Show? Through June 29. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer