Capsule Reviews

"The Cat's Meow" "The Cat's Meow" is a one-room, in-house affair. One standout is a video by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. In it, a cat, with what looks like a dead flea on its head, laps milk from a saucer. That's all that happens. But the cat is so focused that it's kind of mesmerizing. You also realize that lapping is a pretty inefficient way to take in liquid. The cat fans visiting the exhibition cooed at the feline like it was a newborn baby. A kitty and a saucer of milk are a ridiculously banal and saccharine combination, but that's Fischli and Weiss's point; amusing takes on the ordinary are their stock in trade. The video was originally created for the massive Panavision Astrovision screen that overlooks Times Square. Imagining the mundane footage playing in such a frenetic context makes it perfectly absurd and absurdly perfect. How you read Roger Ballen's photograph Portrait of a Sleeping Girl (2000) really depends on how you feel about cats. A young girl sleeps with a blanket tightly wrapped around her. A black cat with a patch of white is curled up on her back. Some viewers may wonder if he's going to suck her soul out while she sleeps, but cat lovers may have a more sentimental take on the image. Through January 15. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300.

"DEAR Camp" "DEAR Camp" is Brian Neal Sensabaugh's campy deer camp. For the installation, Sensabaugh, a gay Houston artist, took elements from his father and brother's deer camp in Arkansas. Going into the woods is, by and large, a macho drunken endeavor. Sure, there's hunting, but there's also male bonding at its most primal -- guns, blood, beer and the crudest of crude humor abounds. Sensabaugh grew up around his family's deer camp, before anyone knew he was gay. For "DEAR Camp," he sardonically painted the trees an elegant white, made pink-and-white covers for the deer rifles, added lace edging to a confederate "The South Will Rise Again" flag and placed little pink-and-white Bambi-and-mom statues around the room. He even absconded with the actual deer camp bar, scrawled with bad jokes about road kill, pussy and gay sex. You can imagine what a comfortable environment that must have been for a gay teen. Sensabaugh undercuts the bar's misogynistic and homophobic humor by adding lace curtains. It's a provocative, pointed installation in which Sensabaugh explores the disjuncture between his childhood roots and his adult identity. Through January 20 at Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main Street, 713-528-5858.

DiverseWorks: J Hill's Sound Installations You can hear the Sonny Liston/Muhammad Ali fight in the bathroom at DiverseWorks. It's part of an ongoing series of sound installations by artist J Hill in the art space's two public bathrooms. Hill dotted the walls and ceiling of the bathroom with speakers, transforming the toilet environment. For the first bathroom, Hill recorded himself at home watching the classic fight. In the background are domestic noises such as water running in the kitchen sink. You could hog the bathroom and listen to the whole match. The second bathroom includes sounds such as a teakettle boiling, birds chirping and, possibly, morning cartoons in the background. Hill is creating a kind of cozy intimacy not generally associated with public toilets as he lets bathroom patrons eavesdrop on his life. His sound installations run through May at DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 713-223-8346.

"Kim Squaglia" Kim Squaglia makes paintings that are so beautifully and sleekly crafted, they feel like design objects. She uses fabulous colors: the palest of sage greens, hot magentas, chocolaty browns, dusty pinks, a 1950's turquoise...Her looping lines, pours of color and carefully delineated biomorphically abstract forms float in and over thick, perfect layers of resin. The resin creates glossy and clear or matte and translucent strata, adding physical and visual depth to the artist's imagery. But the ultimate kicker is that while Squaglia's paintings have the visual and tactile appeal of ultra high-end designer objects, their quirky imagery keeps them firmly in the realm of fine art. Through February 4 at Finesilver Gallery, 3913 Main, 713-524-3733.

"Klee in America" In 1930, Paul Klee's work was included in a major exhibition in Berlin. But just three short years later, he lost his teaching job at the Dsseldorf Art Academy, having been suspended by the new Nazi-appointed director. Klee realized it was time to get the hell out of Dodge -- er, Dsseldorf -- and fled to his native Switzerland. In 1937, the Nazis declared his work to be "Entartete Kunst" [Degenerate Art] and included it in the notorious exhibition by the same name. But as the European market for Klee's work dried up, the American one opened up, since European dealers fleeing the Nazis took Klee's work along with them. Klee's eclectic approach to art was not easily categorized. His work was alternately lumped in with expressionism, surrealism and cubism, but its openness and experimental nature found favor with American collectors. Whether or not you are a Klee fan, you can see how, as the curators of this exhibition at the Menil Collection contend, the artist's work inspired America's abstract expressionist generation. Through January 28. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.

"Wishing for Synchronicity: Works by Pipilotti Rist" This is one of the best installations in recent memory. The survey of the Swiss video artist's work has wonderfully transformed the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. The CAMH's main gallery is filled with projections of Rist's lushly colored, joyously dreamlike video works. Rist's design for the space has one work flowing into the other, through spaces both open and enclosed. The entire floor is darkened; the videos themselves provide the only illumination. This dynamic installation is possible because of the nature of the artist's work -- Rist continually adapts and reconfigures past creations for each new venue. For her, a survey of past works is not a rigid re-presentation of her art but a reimagining of it. One standout is I'm Not the Girl Who Misses Much (1987), an early piece in which Rist sings her own, alternately sped-up and slowed-down lyrics adapted from the Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun." The image is blurry as Rist, clad in a black dress with her bosom exposed, dances frenetically. The audio gets faster and faster until it sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks -- then it becomes glacially slow. Twenty years later, it looks like an edgy music video starring a teenager on crack dancing in her bedroom to her favorite song. It was made, according to Rist, before she had ever seen a music video. Through January 14. 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

"Witnesses to a Surrealist Vision" A 1950s Hopi Kachina doll based on Mickey Mouse, a coconut seed that looks like a butt and a creepy-looking 18th- or 19th-century "Wildman" leather suit studded with leather spikes from the dark recesses of Germany or Switzerland are among the 133 objects coexisting in the intimate space of "Witnesses to a Surrealist Vision," an ongoing show at the Menil Collection. All of the objects in this exhibition were either owned by the surrealists or are similar to those that they collected, according to the exhibition text. And the 130 remaining objects are all equally weird. Tucked into a small, darkly lit room in the back of the Menil's permanent surrealist exhibition, "Witnesses" is a treasure trove of amazing, eclectic objects. It re-creates the idea of the Wunderkammer ("room of wonders"), a cabinet of curiosities -- natural and unnatural, real and fake. It's a wonderful insight into the surrealist vision, as well as a provocative juxtaposition of objects from all over the world, with an emphasis on works from Africa and Oceania. The tiny space is one of the jewels of the Menil Collection, but one you might forget about in the midst of all its temporary exhibitions. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer