Capsule Reviews

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 arts 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.

"Magdalen Celestino: Puparium" Weird little animal-like latex figures are Magdalen Celestino's stock in trade. They are strangely engaging with their black rubber bodies splayed open and stitched together with blood red thread. A host of these figures are arranged on the wall of Mackey Gallery, but having seen similar work from Celestino so often before, I really wanted to see them evolve and change scale. I walked behind a black curtain into the back part of the gallery and lo and behold my wish was granted. There, hanging ominously on the wall, were three huge people-sized latex figures, one with a bear head, another with a wolf head and another with a rodent-esque head. The large scale works really well, but Celestino has cast the bodies from people and lost some of the quirkiness of her small figures with their handmade bodies and feet that end in curls and lumps and tubes. Meanwhile the show's Frankenstein-like elements -- blood in the latex and sculptures with sparking electricity -- just feel labored and extraneous. But there are promising changes overall and it will be interesting to see where Celestino goes next. Through November 19 at Mackey Gallery, 5111 Center, 713-850-8527.

"Ryan Geiger" Geiger's crisply executed paintings juxtapose a variety of surreal images. Geiger's painting style is wonderfully precise and reminiscent of 1950's illustration styles. In the works on view at Rudolph Projects/Artscan Gallery, tree stumps, birds and clouds vie with rollercoaster tracks, text and weird floating stalactites. Using a vintage-looking color palate, Geiger produces large horizontal paintings with formal arrangements of painted borders and medallions containing images. There are several nice large works on view but the surprising standouts of the show are the many small, tightly executed paintings. They aren't as elaborately composed as the larger works but something about paintings like Creator, (2006) is really appealing. Creator has a background of curving abstract forms but in its center floats a blue, brain-like cloud sprouting branches and roots like the dendrites of nerve cells. Geiger is a talented painter who seems to be getting better and better. Through November 25 at Rudolph Projects/Artscan Gallery, 1836 Richmond, 713-807-1836

"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.

"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.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer
Keith Plocek
Contact: Keith Plocek