Capsule Art Reviews: "Elaine Bradford: The Sidereal" "Heinrich Kühn: The Perfect Photograph" "Measured: Lawndale Artist Studio Program Exhibition" "Perspectives 174: Re: Generation" "Regine Schumann: Chameleon" "The Whole World Was Watching: Civil R

"Elaine Bradford: The Sidereal" There are stores known for doing "artsy" window displays, but artists still come up with the best stuff. The Dallas Art Fair recently organized a series of window installations by artists in the windows of Dallas's downtown Neiman Marcus, and the Blaffer Art Museum is taking advantage of a downtown Houston window space during its upcoming renovation. Elaine Bradford's "The Sidereal" is the first offering in the Blaffer's "Window into Houston" series. The installation builds on the artist's ongoing "Museum of Unnatural History," a faux natural history museum filled with imaginary animals created by Bradford using crochet and actual dead (taxidermied) stuff. "The Sidereal" fills two display windows, one with mutant arctic rabbits and giant "ice" stalactites and stalagmites, the other with oddball woodland creatures and fake greenery. It's a great diorama, although I miss the extra punch of the campy painted backdrops that graced Bradford's Art League "unnatural history" installation. The display windows work especially well at night — and parking is easier. Through June 22. 110 Milam Street, 713-743-9521. — KK

"Heinrich Kühn: The Perfect Photograph" Photographs by Heinrich Kühn radiate bourgeois languor. His images from the early years of the 20th century conjure visions of privileged Viennese children on country outings with their governess, flower-filled vases, and women in billowing skirts. Working in various photographic processes, like gum bichromate, which create soft-edged images, Kühn (1866-1944) made prints that resemble pastel or charcoal drawings in their subtlety. Part of the Pictorialist movement that approached photography as an artistic medium, Kühn even ventured into color using multi-layered processes to create works like Mary Warner and Edeltrude, his 1908 image of his daughter with the family's governess. Warner (who seems to have had something more than an employee/employer relationship with the widowed Kühn) is show in a vividly blue, wasp-waisted Edwardian dress. Like many of the photographer's images, it is shot in an open field, implying a leisurely family outing. In reality, Kühn's photographs took hours, as his sitters, mainly his children and Warner, held poses or sat waiting for the sun and shadows to move into perfect composition. The images were far less leisurely than they appear, not to mention the fact that Kühn continued to create them as the carnage of WWI encroached. Through May 30. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 5601 Main, 713-639-7300. — KK

"Measured: Lawndale Artist Studio Program Exhibition" Lawndale's Artist Studio Program provides resources and unrestrained studio space for three projects each year, chosen from a call for entries, and the current main gallery group show is displaying the results. Daniel McFarlane presents a series of acrylic paintings on panels that depict wooden, geometric 3D shapes augmented with abstract, blobby matter. The works flip the properties of organic and synthetic materials, suggesting bizarro-world trees and parasitic organisms. Next, Anthony Thompson Shumate delivers a show of 1:1 scale drawings of "tools," like a drill, a car, clothes and a vibrator. At first look, they appear to be studies or unfinished exploratory drafts, but taken together they form a strange kind of blueprint for living — like a character study in a Hollywood movie. Next stop: corporate branding. Third, Mary Magsamen and Stephan Hillerbrand's photo and video series is a collection of wild household imagery. The photos take titles from Greek myth, like Diana, an image of Magsamen holding a black Labrador dog in her arms, and Pandora, with several human limbs emerging from a cardboard file-cabinet box. The videos are the stars of the show. In DIY Loveseat, Magsamen and Hillerbrand pose indoors on a love­seat with a strangely sagging middle. Then, we see how it got that way. Magsamen used a chainsaw to cut the middle section out of a couch, after which Hillerbrand used duct tape to fuse the two remaining sections together. The actual sections are displayed in the gallery. In Elevated Landscape, Hillerbrand does a little nighttime landscaping on his lawn, mowing, watering, fertilizing and leaf-blowing a section of grass. Magsamen arrives, backing her Mini Cooper up to an elevated platform — the "lawn" is actually atop the platform. It's an odd jump; I thought the video needed a shot that zoomed out to reveal the platform. But what happens next takes "cutting the lawn" to a hilarious level. On view through June 4. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — TS

"Perspectives 174: Re: Generation" This biennial exhibition organized by the CAMH's Teen Council showcases the work of Houston-area teens, and it features some wonderful stuff — you'll want to take down some names of artists to watch. The flagship image of the show is Alyssa Hansen's digital photograph Princess, a closeup on a teenage girl's lower lip, which she reveals to be tattooed with a crown. It's a generational line in the sand, an example of a phenomenon that makes perfect sense to those of a certain age, and yet it represents total absurdity to their elders. Another photograph, David Garrett Marsh's Fading Away, depicts an overweight girl sitting cross-legged at the side of a road, smoking. Next to her is a fuzzy gray cloud in the shape of another person, perhaps a friend. And the girl's face is strangely blurred — on closer inspection, her face is pixelated and raised off the surface of the paper. Ava Barrett's Deconstructed Hymnal: Wall of Sound is a hanging matrix of hymnal pages that walks a line between provocative and reverent. But Temin Adelaide Eng's Twilight doesn't pull punches on how it feels about its literary subject: Stephenie Meyer's series of vampire novels. Eng has constructed a miniature coffin, lined with pages from the novel, which she has burned. Its charred remains lie inside with only a portion of the cover and spine intact to identify it. And continuing the impressive photography on display is Brittany Nichols's Strange Manners, a scene of macabre domestic violence. A man wearing a rabbit mask lies dead on a kitchen floor, apparently stabbed to death by a woman, also rabbit-masked and bloody-handed. It's a coolly composed, lit and staged piece of narrative photography. Through June 26. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.— TS

"Regine Schumann: Chameleon" Regine Schumann's fluorescent Plexiglas boxes may have a subtle glow during the day, but under black light, they look like they've been plugged in. Schumann combines planes of vividly colored Plexi to create her wall-mounted works. They're well-crafted, but aside from the very cool luminosity factor, most of the forms rely on standard geometric shapes. Still, there are a couple of very interesting standouts in which Schumann is taking expected squares and rectangles and ever-so-slightly warping the sides in or out. The best is a large square in a radiant "safety orange." Schumann has curved the sides outward so slightly that you keep wondering if it is an optical illusion. Subtle alterations like these give the work a very interesting edge. Through May 7. Gallery Sonja Roesch, 2309 Caroline Street, 713-659-5424. — KK

"The Whole World Was Watching: Civil Rights-Era Photographs" This selection of photography from a collection given to the Menil by Edmund Carpenter and Adelaide de Menil documents the civil rights struggles of the late '50s and early '60s, when the exhibit's title phrase, "The Whole World Was Watching," was adopted by activists and political groups as a rallying cry for change. It refers, of course, to the advent of television and the ability for wide dissemination of images depicting racial injustice in the southern United States. The exhibit documents the signs of segregation, the presence of the KKK, battles with law enforcement and the cruel practice of blasting protesters with water from high-pressure fire hoses, and it also displays the nonviolent marches, moments of solidarity and other images that embody the race relations of the times, as seen through the lenses of six photographers. Bruce L. Davidson's Woman being held by two policemen captures a protester being detained in front of a movie theater whose marquee adds intriguing commentary to the image. A young African-American man in whiteface, with the word "vote" written across his forehead, marches in another photo by Davidson. And Martin Luther King Jr. happily shakes hands with women from his car in Leonard Freed's image Maryland. They're just a few of the extraordinary images on display. Through September 25. Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
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Troy Schulze
Contact: Troy Schulze