Capsule Art Reviews: "Jason Salavon: Annex and Catalogue," "John Alexander: A Retrospective," "Learning by Doing: 25 Years of the Core Program," "Ruth Pastine: Ever Present"

"Jason Salavon: Annex and Catalogue" Jason Salavon alters images using software of his own design. In early works, he averaged the colored pixels of ten years of scanned Playboy centerfolds in order to create a fuzzy, vaguely feminine, visual mean. He applied the same tactic to images of homes for sale in Dallas and came up with a vaguely ranch-style product. Recent video pieces by the artist are currently on view at Inman Gallery. Salavon is as smart as ever, but the work is disappointingly protracted. Catalogue to the Sun and Moon (2007) is a video projection of a realistic, digitally rendered living room furnished with "products modeled on the wares of IKEA, Design Within Reach, and other upscale retailers." Apparently, if you hang around long enough, the furniture slowly morphs from one product to another, the coffee table shifting from a simple metal number to a simple wood number, the generically clean-lined sofa shifting from fabric to leather. The overwhelming sameness of mass-produced, tastefully modern furniture is a point to be made, but the evolution is so slow nobody is going to stick around for it. To appreciate it, you'd have to buy the piece and live with it. Making people watch video for an interminable length of time while they wait for something subtle to happen is a tired and annoying strategy. Through July 5. 3901 Main, 713-526-7800. — 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

"Ruth Pastine: Ever Present" Ruth Pastine's paintings at Gallery Sonja Roesch have some amazingly subtle coloration going on. What at first seem to be shadows on ostensibly monochromatic minimalist works are actually faint underlays of color. Using a tiny brush and thin layers of paint, Pastine builds up delicate, luminous breaths of color in her work. Playing with the color opposites of red and green in Mobius (2008), she slowly shifts a line of seven small square canvases from a minty green to a rosy pink. At one end, pink burrows into the center of the green and gradually makes it way to the edges in subsequent paintings, while a green seems to simultaneously burrow out from the center of the pink. I'm not quite sure how Pastine pulls these paintings off; when you stand up close and try to "see" the color shifts, everything seems to be one hue. It's only when you step away that the color shifts reveal themselves. Maybe Pastine has a very, very long brush.... Through July 5. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424. — KK

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer