Capsule Reviews

"Bringing Shadows to Light: Contemporary Argentine Photography" Addressing subjects as diverse as war, the tango and the country's current economic crisis, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston presents a good small survey of contemporary Argentine photography. There are pictures of a man's crude drawings recording the torture he witnessed during the Dirty War (1976--1983). Another image from the period shows a man seated numbly beneath a tree, his eyes, nose and jaw completely covered with bandages. The woman next to him cries out to someone unknown. Meanwhile, a series of black-and-white tango images with a film-noir aesthetic present a moodily romantic vision of the country. An elderly tango master dances with a beautiful young woman; a blurred silver tray of sparkling cocktails balances on a waiter's arm. Other images in lurid color present a harsh pop/political edge, with young Argentines wearing plastic masks of Fidel Castro and the Statue of Liberty. The show gives viewers an interesting range of artists and their takes on their country, its history and culture. Through July 30. 5601 Main, 713-639-7300.

"Fellowship Series XI: Expositions" CACHH's fellowship series exhibitions continue to offer up interesting, bite-size selections of work from its grant recipients. This time the featured artists are Beth Secor, Angela Fraleigh and Darryl Lauster. Secor paints family portraits from old photographs; in an accompanying artist's statement, she relays snippets of crackpot family history that add an extra layer of intrigue to her dour turn-of-the-century faces (e.g., strychnine poisoning). Fraleigh contributed one of her large oil paintings that mix figures with smeared and poured areas of abstract color, but her lesser-known watercolors really upstage it -- their loose and fluid unpretentiousness makes the painting seem uptight. Rounding out the trio is Lauster, whose fascination with historical decorative objects and furniture inspires his sculptures. Here he riffs on 19th-century blue-and-white Transferware china. But instead of bucolic scenes, Lauster's collection of plates depicts events from American history -- the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, a Klan rally, suffragists, atomic blasts -- all ironically edged with charming decorative borders. Through August 3 at Space 125 of the Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-9330.

"Kaneem Smith" Kaneem Smith doesn't make pretty sculptures. There's usually something slightly icky and unsettling going on in her loose, abstract forms. They're covered in fabric and liberally coated with viscous substances that tend to evoke visceral reactions from viewers. New work by the artist is on view in the "Kaneem Smith" exhibition at Rudolph Projects/ArtScan Gallery. Smith mixes earthy, natural hues with latex and silicone to make things look rubbery and fleshy, while her tinted resin calls to mind the hard, shiny exoskeletons of insects. Adding to the organic nature of her work, Smith herself weaves much of the fabric she uses. It's usually stretched over or wrapped around metal or wire armatures, giving them furry pelts or epidermal coatings. Compulsory Matriarch hangs slackly from a nail on the wall. It's an elongated oval shell of felt lined with thick, matted strands of light brown camel hair. The six-foot-long work feels like a cross between a giant orifice and a nest. You don't know whether it's a place for birthing or for sleeping, but it doesn't feel creepy. There's a kind of warm animal comfort to the piece. Other wall pieces are less successful. Progressive Aggression is a series of works that use flat bands of metal and strips of thick and fuzzy gray felt bent and wrapped together. Hung on the wall like paintings, they're all pretty rectangular, around three feet high by about a foot and a half wide. The series illustrates an underlying problem in much of Smith's work: its overwhelming rectilinearity. She's a young artist, and it will be interesting to see what happens to her intriguing sculptures when she jettisons their internalized conventions and embraces their organic yearnings. Through August 12. 1836 Richmond, 713-807-1836.

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