Capsule Art Reviews: July 31, 2014

"Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris" Charles Marville was an early and prolific photographer of old Paris, commissioned to record the before, during and after of Emperor Napoleon III's radical transformation that remade a medieval city into the first modern one. But these aren't the rose-tinted images of the City of Light we've come to love. Working from the 1850s to the 1870s, Marville made 425 often haunting images of a city about to be, and in the process of being, ripped apart to create the honey-hued boulevards we love today. The streets he shows us are eerily devoid of people. This is partly a result of the technical limitations of early photography — long exposure times meant that people in motion became only ghostly smudges. But the people weren't the point. In fact, the lives lived in those streets were irrelevant — obstacles to be displaced or crushed as the Baron Haussmann carried out the Emperor's orders to re-create Paris as his modern stage for imperial grandeur. We know what Paris would become, but the few people who stand stark still in these photos didn't. The Paris they knew was about to be destroyed, and that tension gives the photos much of their power. Marville didn't often present his photographs as art. For him, photography was a livelihood. But he was an artist to the core, and the art crept in. Through September 14. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300, mfah.org. — RT

"Check Mate" Gil Bruvel's brilliant steel and ceramic chess sets — three of them, each different — dominate the center of the Laura Rathe Fine Art Gallery. They are witty, urbane and beautiful, with an airy, three-dimensional quality, each piece separate and movable. Bruvel's other works are even more powerful — sculptured heads made of stainless steel. Dichotomy presents the head and upper torso of a woman, formed of ribbons of steel, with open spaces between, creating a wind-blown, flowing effect, and making the steel seem fluid and alive. Each side of the face is different, suggesting both a cosmetic disadvantage and a capacity for duplicity. In Rain, the reflection of a man's head begins at the jawline, seemingly a mirror image, but I wondered if the expression in the hooded eyes below was really the same. This could be a Spartan defending a mountain pass. This is a group show, and includes Andreas Nottebohm, considered a master in metal painting. His work here, titled KN-2075, lets us see why. It's an elongated oval, oil painted on aluminum, primarily blue but with shifting elements of green as one moves past it. It suggests water, and has an otherworldly quality, as though it might be a futuristic control panel for a spaceship. It is wonderful. Gian Garofalo creates a series of vertical stripes of varying colors, but with so many stripes and so many colors that the work bursts with energy. Roi James also employs vertical stripes, and his art is colorful, with a soothing, serene quality, almost regal in its quiet authority. This is an exhibition replete with artistic pleasures. Through August 29. 2707 Colquitt, 713-527-7700, laurarathe.com. — JJT

"Lisa Bick: Wax and Fire & Stephanie Mercado: Then, Here, Now" Two artists have shows, designated "solo," at Hooks-Epstein Gallery, one with a lighthearted approach, the other more serious. Stephanie Mercado's Adrift on Memory's Bliss has a man dreaming on a river while a tree sprouts from his chest, with the heads of six women in its branches, while a sailing sloop nestles high in the branches of a tree onshore. Inside Out has an air of mystery, and a highly successful contrast of blue flocked "wallpaper" with grays, as well as Mercado's trademark surrealism. The colorful The Game suggests the beginning of a high society orgy, and the black-and-white The Tea Party indicates the orgy is moving right along. If you enjoy wit and talent, Mercado is for you. Lisa Bick uses melted wax, resin and pigments, fused by a blowtorch, to provide an impression of antiquity, and has ambitious intentions, perhaps overly so. Sometimes there are schematas resembling architectural drawings as background. There is extensive use of browns, and even here some occasional humor. Fracking Pink shows the extraction not of natural gas but of the color pink from the ground. Where in the World Do I Go from Here includes detailed drawings of ancient maps, lines apparently drawn by a compass, and an enticing sense of layered depth. Acid Rose uses an architectural sketch for a garden as background, and the result is serene and highly satisfying. Varanasi is an ancient city on the Ganges river, and a painting with that title is the most colorful, with Bick's techniques softening the colors to provide grace and beauty. Through August 16. 2631 Colquitt, 713-522-0718, hooksepsteingalleries.com. — JJT

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