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.

"Patrick Renner: Trepanned" In the past, Patrick Renner's work has been about visual appeal and craftsmanship. He's created massive wooden sculptures by patchworking together multicolored pieces of old painted wood. But in his latest show, Renner is trying, in fits and starts, to be more conceptual, with work about remembering and preserving. The point of departure for his series pangaea is a collection of salvaged pieces of old linoleum floor. The 1930s floral rug-patterned linoleum peeks through a worn coat of mint green paint. Renner has mounted the large, torn pieces on thick hunks of foam, arranging them so they seem to be drifting apart like continents. They hang well on the wall, and the act of monumentalizing and fetishizing something as mundane as a kitchen floor is weirdly interesting. Meanwhile, forget-me-knot (2006), Renner's unfortunately titled meditation on lost socks, is pretty stupid. For this work, he welded a rebar frame into the shape of a knotted sock and then tied a cadre of socks-without-partners to it. But the show does include some sock-themed work that fares better -- his casts of actual socks in iron. Pathetic-looking old socks are immortalized in weighty metal and plopped on a display shelf. The results are funny and depressing at the same time. Through October 28 at Poissant Gallery, 5102 Center St., 713-868-9337.

"Run For Your Lives!" is not only the catchphrase of 21st-century America, it's also the title of a show at DiverseWorks, curated by new director Diane Barber, which explores disaster, both natural and man-made. Some of the artists take on 9/11 itself -- it's not just for Hollywood anymore. 9/11 (2001), Joseph Peragine's digital animation of the World Trade Center attacks, set to a snazzy jazz track, is eerily upbeat. The animation is stylized -- brightly and flatly colored, digitally sketchy and abstracted. Flames spew from the towers, emergency vehicles rush in, and the towers rain down. An anthropomorphic rabbit with bulging bloodshot eyes sits in a recliner and watches it all on TV. While Peragine works with digital technology, Lillian Tyrrell uses an ancient handicraft to create one of the exhibition's most graphically dramatic contributions. She weaves blankets based on images from actual disasters. In the strongest one, a tiny falling figure is set against the stark vertical lines of the World Trade Center. It's visually and emotionally striking; first you admire the image, then a beat later it hits you -- that's someone plummeting to his death. Dietrich Wegner is the only artist to offer us escape from the destruction -- sort of. He sculpted a giant fluffy blast cloud of polyester fiberfill that doubles as a tree house. A dangling rope ladder leads to a heavenly white interior with a rough wood floor. Sadly, it's only a marginally more hopeful take. We live in screwed-up times, but hey, at least artists are managing to get something out of it. Through October 21 at DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 713-223-8346.

"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.

"Singular Multiples: The Peter Blum Edition Archive, 1980 -- 1994" In 1980, art critic, art dealer and filmmaker Peter Blum began publishing prints from a broad range of contemporary artists with the objective of creating what he considered "exhibitions in boxes." In 1996, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston acquired all of the prints and books published by the Peter Blum Edition from 1981 to June 1994. The Edition threw in all the related materials they owned -- preliminary drawings, printing plates and proofs -- to add a behind-the-scenes look at the finished products. This year's exhibition has presented the entire collection, 44 projects by 23 artists in three staggered exhibitions. The largest and most interesting is the third show, which occupies the entire 25,000 square feet of the Upper Brown Pavilion. For one project on view, Blum set artist James Turrell up with master printer Peter Kneub#159hler to create a series of aquatint etchings, First Light (1989-90), which depicts various geometric shapes that seem to be divined from white light. They appear to float in darkened rooms, their aquatint so finely done that it mimics even the subtle alterations of light found in Turrell's installations. (The "floating" bridge in the tunnel connecting the MFAH's Beck Building and Law Building is a Turrell work.) The Turrell etchings have amazingly dense areas of black with beautifully subtle areas of faint light. In the past, prints have often been seen as just a way to create multiple -- and cheaper -- versions of an artist's work. Blum encouraged artists to express themselves in what was often a new medium for them and paired them with printmakers who could pull their visions off. In doing so, he facilitated some amazing work. Through October 15 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300.

"The Things I See" This exhibition showcases Floyd Newsum's works on paper. Newsum creates dynamic, dense compositions by mixing painted elements with collaged fragments which run the gamut from an image of a black Madonna to a torn orange juice carton to an old Christmas ornament. In his paintings, Newsum flattens landscape into pattern and transforms things like fish, ladders, snakes and houses into repeating symbols. Packing this much into a painting and throwing in found objects can sometimes result in a crowded, grubby aesthetic, but Newsum's work manages to feel clean and effortless. His colors are bright and clear, and his painted images and collaged elements are beautifully balanced. Though October 14 at Joan Wich & Co. Gallery, 4411 Montrose Blvd., 713-526-1551.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer