Capsule Art Reviews: "Objects of Devotion," "Retablo Exhibition," "Richard Misrach: After Katrina," "St. Boniface's Last Days"

"Objects of Devotion" The Menil Collection is the perfect place for an exhibition like this. John and Dominique de Menil's collecting was deeply influenced by Father Marie-Alain Couturier and his interest in art and spirituality. The Collection's Renzo Piano-designed building itself feels like a chapel, and nobody installs work more beautifully than the Menil — the team could hang a dishrag on the wall and make it feel like a holy relic. And when they turn their hands to presenting actual devotional objects, the results are pretty spectacular. It's a tiny but powerful show, with a richly diverse collection of objects that speak to a global range of human beliefs. An almost 1,000-year-old wooden Shinto figure shares the space with a 14th-century icon of St. John the Baptist. A Maori feather box, a Dogon figure of a mother and child, and a Mayan drinking vessel face a more than 1,000- year-old censer, its bottom worn like an old cooking pot. It's a richly intimate show for believers and nonbelievers alike. Through October 31. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — KK

"Retablo Exhibition" Lawndale Art Center's annual Retablo Exhibition is a glorious free-for-all fund-raiser. Basically, anybody can come by and pick up a piece of tin and create a retablo for the show. (FYI for purists, most of the artists interpret "retablo" loosely.) The exhibition has work by well-known artists as well as hobbyists. There's usually a high percentage of goofy high school art projects gone awry, but there are always some little gems. This year, Al Souza contributed a radiant collage of cigar labels; it looks all gilded and holy until you walk up and realize what it is. Tobiah Mundt, who recently had a show at Lawndale, offers up one of her creepy little figures. Chris Comperry has a funny naked cowboy painting, a tribute to mid-century naked-bodybuilder photographer Bruce Bellas. Sean Flournoy used the packaging for a life-sized inflatable doll as inspiration for his piece, while Joel Hernandez has an elegant/macabre skull spewing "diamonds" from her mouth. (By the way, if macabre is your sole criteria for art, Wayne Gilbert has incorporated human cremains in his piece.) More funny than dark, Aaron A. Beasley has a piece with a tiny shark in formaldehyde, a jab at art star Damien Hirst. Kenneth James Beasley's "Fallen Painter" looks like he was overcome by fumes. David McGee presents a "Self Portrait as a Young Japanese Art Star." Nina Craig-Makepeace has a quirky painting of a disembodied mouth, and her husband Jason Makepeace has a box with an on/off switch and a surprise. Clark Kellogg has some lovely woodwork in his piece, and Arielle Masson and David Aylsworth have contributed some satisfying little abstract paintings. Whew. There's more nice stuff (245 works overall), and almost everything has a starting bid that's less than $150. Gala and silent auction: 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, October 22 ($45 dollars for members, $35 for nonmembers). If you don't make it, you'll be able to pick through the leftovers later. Exhibition runs through November 6. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — KK

"Richard Misrach: After Katrina" The five-year anniversary of Katrina briefly brought the catastrophe and its victims back onto the front page. The MFAH's exhibition of Richard Misrach photographs was timed to the anniversary, but the unpopulated images capture and convey the Katrina tragedy in the words of its survivors and will continue to speak long after media attention has again faded. Armed with a dinky four-megapixel camera, Misrach photographed the official and unofficial graffiti spray-painted over New Orleans's devastated homes in Katrina's aftermath — the search and rescue notations, personal messages, expletives, quips and exclamations of its residents and evacuees. What emerges is a portrait of people overwhelmed by tragedy and sometimes managing to fight back with dark humor. The poster image for the series is a shot of a red brick ranch-style house with the words "Destroy this memory" scrawled across it. Rescuers' orange spray-paint code for checked houses and notations of dead bodies and dead animals are ubiquitous. Despair is written bluntly across roofs, "HELP." Others declare, "I AM ALIVE" and add a cell phone number. Humor, the ultimate coping mechanism, is in full view. "YEP, BROWNIE, YOU DID A HECK OF A JOB" is caustically printed on the side of a garage. The worst are the questions. "MICHAEL, WHERE ARE YOU?" is written on a house above a contact number. Misrach's series is especially compelling because he gives Katrina's victims a voice, one that is as complex as they are, and one that will continue to resonate. Through October 31. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK

"St. Boniface's Last Days" Nature is beautiful, romantic and tranquil – that is, until you are in the middle of it. In Peat Duggins's show at Art Palace, images of nature have some ominous aspects. A series of marquetry plaques feature scenes crafted from various shades and varieties of inlaid wood veneer. Pretty butterflies float as a coiled snake swallows a frog, its legs kicking frantically even as its tongue shoots out to snag a butterfly and take it down with them. In the same way that Duggins's imagery subverts marquetry's decorative origins, his choice of materials subverts the reddish-brown "wooden" frames surrounding the plaques. The plaque's ornate, leaf-adorned frames are actually cast fiberglass. The same material used to fabricate hot tubs frames the wooden images of nature. That's pretty funny. In the center of the gallery is a long, hooded cloak that looks like the vestments for some sort of druid priest. The garment is gorgeously crafted from hundreds of pieces of felt cut into the shapes of leaves, with a train long enough to satisfy the bridal ambitions of a Dallas debutant. Several "wooden" busts are situated around the room, cast in the same oddly chocolaty-brown fiberglass as the frames for the marquetry pieces. Duggins uses his felt leaves here as well, hooding the busts with them. But rather than draping over the heads of the busts, they cling to them; ominous and suffocating rather than ceremonial, they appear to drip over the heads. I picture the faces underneath gasping for air. Through October 23. 3913 Main, 281-501-2964. — KK

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer