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.

"Drawing Inside/Out" This sprawling drawing show is housed way up on Lawndale's third floor. Curated by Michelle White, Lawndale programming committee member and curatorial assistant at the Menil Collection, the show features an assortment of artists with varied approaches to drawing. Joey Fauerso presents a witty DVD, Four Ways to Disappear (2006), in which four drawings of a shirtless, big-gutted guy in jeans are slowly smeared out and erased. Next to it are Monica Vidal's wonderfully, obsessively rendered gouache drawings of imagined structures and landscapes. Across the room, David Ubias's Sea Anemone Sees an Enemy (2006) has a looser approach to the surreal. In a really funny gesture for a group show, he made himself a big red second-place ribbon and attached it to his drawing. Then there are Wesley Heiss's anal-retentive mechanical-pencil drawings on Mylar -- they exactly and absurdly detail the interior and exterior of conjoined aircraft. This show is a well-chosen grab bag that revives the come-one-come-all spirit of the old Lawndale. Through July 1 at Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main, 713-528-5858.

"Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds 3: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies" Gunther von Hagens is the creator of the corpse-preservation process known as plastination, in which water and soluble fats are removed from the body and replaced with polymers such as silicone. The process results in lovely, long-lasting and odor-free cadavers! Just what we all were waiting for. The "Body Worlds" exhibition presents the products of von Hagens's process. Health education is the stated goal of the exhibition, and parts of it are really fascinating. It leads in with bones and skeletons, moves on to organs, and then hits you with the full-on corpses. There is informational text with each object, and the audio guide is quite good, giving you scientific information in layman's terms about bones, organs, nerves...This would have made biology class a hell of a lot more interesting. It's when von Hagens tries to get creative with them that things get tacky and questionable. At the entrance to the show, there's a skeleton kneeling with what is identified as a "Teutonic cross." Holding its heart in its hand, the skeleton still has its eyeballs, which goggle heavenward. And this is one of the mildest displays of von Hagens's Germanic tendency toward the macabre and baroque. The really low point is when von Hagens gets all Grimm's Fairy Tales with a figure whose muscle tissue is flayed away from his body, standing out like feathers. He is described as riding an "imaginary broom." Yeah, right: That would be his hands wrapped around his own trachea, standing in as the "broom" handle. Ultimately, von Hagens's P.T. Barnum showmanship overrides the educational aspects of the show. He may have developed this revolutionary method for preserving corpses, but perhaps somebody else should be appointed creative director. Through September 4. Houston Museum of Natural Science, One Hermann Circle Dr., 713-639-4629.

"Popunation: New Work by David Chien" David Chien's installation at the Art League Houston is filled with bright cartoon cutouts of people -- and dogs. The larger-than-life figures depict a guy in a suit walking his dog, a man holding a bunch of birds from strings like balloons, and another guy in a shirt and tie standing with his dog and holding a can of spray paint, apparently for tagging the wall with dog-print wallpaper. The figures are stylized and hard-edged, and the dogs have a strong Keith Haring look to them. Chien also has included an amusing low-tech video game along the lines of Tetris. Projected on the wall, it features round leaves falling from a tree that are to be stacked. The problem is Chien keeps trying to imbue the figures with meaning. He has a gallery text that explains each piece; a circle of cutout dogs around the campfire is to "portray the diversity of people who caravanned cross country to settle the old west." Reading through, you see he's aiming for some broad cultural commentary, but none of his explanations makes sense individually or collectively. Nevertheless, while the show is conceptually lacking, it holds together stylistically. Everything is executed in bright, flat color. Chien has a nice design sense. He just needs to quit trying make the work more than it is and instead focus on the visual. Through June 23. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530.

"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.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer