"John Szarkowski: Photographs" While employed as director of the photography department at New York's Museum of Modern Art, Minnesota native John Szarkowski championed documentary-style street photography, works that resembled his own '50s photos. Since retiring in 1991, Szarkowski has continued to photograph -- mostly landscapes. "John Szarkowski: Photographs" combines his early and recent work, and the results are underwhelming. In the early photography, people and urban architecture make up most of the subjects. One portrait of a man smoking gives off a sense of great weariness. Other street scenes ripple with energy, but the landscapes feel downplayed and catatonic. The curator, Sandra S. Phillips, writes, "Szarkowski's most recent pictures of apple trees heavy with abundant fruit and of the fading summer light on the meadow behind his barn, possess a freedom of expression and quality of transcendence that is extraordinary and new." These photos demonstrate nothing new or extraordinary, other than a peek into the daily doings of a bored, retired museum curator. He takes pictures of his property. Through September 17 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 5601 Main, 713-639-7300.
"Power Pathos" Anyone who wasn't raised on a fundamentalist compound will have seen some of the imagery in this group show featuring five artists whose work mines the memes of advertising, cartoons, comics, carnivals, graffiti, tattoos, surfing and other bits of pop-culture detritus. Anthony Ausgang offers up several paintings of his signature cats, brightly colored and drawn in the cartoony style of Tom or Sylvester -- that is, if Jerry and Tweety were looking at them after dropping a couple of hits of acid. Man-child Daniel Johnston presents more than a hundred drawings, giving us the opportunity to see multiple variations of the artist's stock characters (Captain America, Joe Boxer, that frog with tentacle eyes) and his recurring themes (good vs. evil, unrequited love, mental illness). Gibby Haynes's drawings look just like what you'd expect from the lead singer of the Butthole Surfers -- in other words, they're weird -- and Clark Fox gets a lot of mileage from imagery of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Hugo Chavez, Mr. Peanut and Big Chief. But the quintessential pop surrealist is Ron English, whose Kiddy Guernica reworks the Pablo Picasso masterpiece into a carnivalesque commentary on war games. Spanning a foot more than the original, the work is a definite must-see. Through September 24 at the Station Museum, 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900.
Summer Studio Residencies If the new residencies at Project Row Houses are any indication of the emerging crop of Houston artists, then there may be cause for concern. Not that the five artists exhibited are untalented; quite the contrary. But conceptually, these installations feel flat. In fact, of the five works created by local college art students, none feels as fleshy as the side exhibit, Eric "Equality" Blaylock and Jason "Flash Gordon Parks" Woods's The Beautiful Side of Ugly, a 3-D version of the artists' poetry-and-photography book documenting Houston's marginalized. The installation pulses with imagery, objects and words, vividly rendering specific locations and emotional pinpoints. The student artists, on the other hand, who find no trouble talking about their work in artist notes, ultimately fail to deliver those concepts in execution. Least guilty are Keijiro Suzuki and Golda Hall, both sophomores at Houston Community College. Suzuki's Native American-inspired piece resonates with its focus on negative space and its sweeping, circular design. Clothespin-hung headshots of an ethnically diverse group of individuals hang above hard, socklike shells of feet. The installation manages to communicate a message about universality. Hall's black-and-white nude photos of most likely her fellow college students are displayed in pieces, so that smaller prints come together to create a larger, whole image -- not particularly innovative in design, but there's a conceptual point of view. The other three artists, two juniors and a senior, demonstrate potential but not much more. Through September 24. 2521 Holman, 713-526-7662.