"Rip Curl Canyon" This installation is the product of Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues, two Los Angeles-based architects who focus their energies on events and installations rather than on houses and buildings. They have transformed the Rice Gallery space into a playful landscape consisting of five twisting ridges made of 4,000 pieces of cardboard pressed together between pieces of wood. The ridges are laid out in vertical rows, like canyon walls, at the front of the room, and as they run toward the back, they twist off the ground, bringing the cardboard pieces from horizontal to vertical placement and creating a hikeable space. All art requires input from the viewer -- it's a two-way street -- but this particular project practically begs for interaction. As you walk up and down the ridges, the structures creaking below, you can't help but wonder if the cardboard is going to give. You're actually walking on the edges of the cardboard sheets, which, tan on one side and white on the other, create a slight ebb and flow of color. Climbing up is easy, but the only way to get down is to slide on your butt, gently ruffling the edges as you do. And that's just the half of it. Underneath the cardboard ribbons is a mine-like environment, a subterranean world of two-by-four beams and small fluorescent lights. Through October 29 at Rice University Art Gallery, 3100 Main, 713-348-6069.
"Sculpture Now -- in the Houston area" For this exhibition, Sally Sprout rounded up work from 49 Houston-area artists and corralled it all in the Williams Tower Gallery. There's a lot of interesting work from everybody who's anybody, but the lobby of Williams Tower isn't exactly the most hospitable place to present art. The space is granite, granite and more granite, and it looks like a mausoleum, requiring the necessary evil of moveable partitions to show wall-based work. Sprout manages to make the best of it; Howl (1986), by the recently departed Luis Jimenez, Jr., is the standout of the lobby environment. Jimenez created a fiberglass sculpture of a howling wolf and luridly painted it with luminous auto body paint in deep purples, blues and grays. Sprout has wittily positioned it right outside the entrance to the sleek Knoll showroom. Other works that show especially well in the corporate lobby are also incongruous. Bill Davenport's Cask (2006) is crafted from Styrofoam and painted with cartoonish wood grain. It looks like a pirate's treasure chest, but in this context, it might hold the loot from some grossly overpaid CEO. Meanwhile, Elaine Bradford's By the Fire (2004) presents a deer head that appears to be wearing a sweater; Bradford has covered antlers and all with crochet and hung the whole thing over a fake fireplace. It adds a weird domesticity to the lobby, but, unfortunately, had to be mounted on one of the gray partitions -- it would be especially perfect stuck directly on the granite wall. Through October 27 at Williams Tower Gallery, 2800 Post Oak, 713-526-6461.
"Word" This group exhibition is full of wordplay, from the self-referential Black is a word, a 1975 offering from superstar Ben Vautier, in which "black" is painted in black and the other words in white, to Wayne Gilbert's The Difference a Day Makes (2005), in which the local artist has done his trademark goth thing, using real human cremains (i.e., dead people) to construct "9/10" real small and "9/11" super big. Joseph Kosuth's Essays #7 (2000) is a reworking of his seminal 1965 work, One and Three Photographs, which originally was all about mise en abyme and now, in updated form, has even more framing. Philipe Macoutel's thing (1984) is a painted steel sculpture of the word "thing," giving us the signified and the signifier in one fell swoop. Christian Xatrec's This Sign (Not) For Sale [Autology] (1989-2006) has "this sign for sale" written on a board that, when it's sold, will be turned over to reveal "this sign not for sale." In a word, the show's a success, even if some of the older stuff on view has been imitated in art classes so many times it's tough to feel the bite. Through November 4 at Deborah Colton Gallery, 2500 Summer Street, 713-864-2364.