Capsule Art Reviews: "The Art Guys: New Clichés," "Casual Encounters," "New Art in Austin: 20 to Watch"

"The Art Guys: New Clichés" With "New Clichés," the Art Guys present recent work still rooted in the familiar blend of bizarre humor and smart, confident swagger we've long associated with the names Jack Massing and Michael Galbreth. They are avid, eager experimentalists in process and materials. It's as intriguing to behold one of the duo's failures as it is to celebrate a success, since Massing and Galbreth don't seem to manifest an interest in either one. An idea's conception, once outlined or proposed in image or sculpture, is already an accomplishment. Here, the work with the greatest impact results from augmenting simple objects (mostly tools) with components and materials that alter the objects' utilitarian contexts. Duet, for example, is an old metal oilcan with a strange moaning sound emanating from inside it. Get closer and peer into the two long spouts. You'll see two little mouths singing. For Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost (Party World), the Guys covered a shovel, a rake and a weed cutter with little mirror squares and hung them from the ceiling on motors so they imitate mirror balls. The reflections create mesmerizing patterns on the walls. Who wouldn't want that? The experience begins hilariously and winds up strangely beautiful. Same with their series of match drawings — images created by burned wooden matches mounted on aluminum panels. Each one delivers a specific response based on an image juxtaposed with the burning process — a clown, a skull, a lamp, a honey bear. It's the grownup equivalent of two kids burning shit behind the garage to see what happens. What happens is something ­really rad. Through June 20. McClain Gallery, 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — TS

"Casual Encounters" Named after the infamous Craigslist category, this show explores the dangerous, ugly and surreal world that exists just on the other side of that risky line one crosses when placing or answering such an ad. From Derek Albeck's flawless graphite portraits of hapless, stoned fools to Will Boone's large-scale Xerox prints of actual dead bodies, there's a creepy, desperate cautionary tale being played out in Domy Books's little gallery. Patrick Griffin's documentary photographs capture street scenes of graffiti and altered signage in which the urban environment appears to display its abused soul. French contributes a series of prints depicting iconography in the medieval/heavy-metal vein, the kind of content that might attract one's wildest dream/worst nightmare casual encounter on Craigslist. Local street artist Give Up had a hand in putting this show together. His darkly haunting, nihilistic imagery is here, too, but I still wish he'd contribute something more substantial to gallery shows instead of the same posters you see on the street. Maybe I should just give up. Through June 6. 1709 Westheimer, 713-523-3669. — TS

"New Art in Austin: 20 to Watch" DiverseWorks Artspace is hosting the third edition of the Austin Museum of Art's triennial series "New Art in Austin: 20 to Watch," and the results are definitely encouraging. For a Hill Country region known more for fine craft than fine art, it's especially surprising to see so many concept-oriented installation works rather than single-media pieces. Buster Graybill's Come Along Johnny, an upended "Jon boat" that juts out from the gallery wall, displays perhaps the most regionally influenced commentary in the show. A twisted, mangled mess of inflated inner tubes bulge from the boat, suspended by a yellow strap. Inspired by trips from New Braunfels to Austin, the work cleverly reimagines materials to create a wholly different and bizarre function from its compositional elements. There's more wonderful work here by Alyson Fox, Jill Pangallo, Sarah Sudhoff, Raymond Uhlir, Yoon Cho and Shawn Smith, among others, but the standout piece goes to Kurt Mueller, who delivers the most emotionally stirring installation of the lot. For American Dream, Mueller sets up a familiar assemblage of components: microphone, amplifier and television screen. Riffing on American Idol and karaoke culture, Mueller stripped Martin Luther King Jr.'s voice from the famous "I Have a Dream" speech, leaving only the cheers of the crowd audible. And instead of song lyrics flashing on the screen, we get the full text of the speech, highlighted bouncing-ball style across the words as we're meant to speak it. It's a fantastically simple and elegant work, a fitting statement for the show as a whole and a fine representation of Austin's contribution to the Texas visual art stage. Through June 13. 1117 East Fwy., 713-223-8346. — TS

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Troy Schulze
Contact: Troy Schulze