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.

"Christian Eckart: Purpose Driven" Christian Eckart makes work that hovers between sculpture and painting. Shapes are cut from aluminum and attached to the wall so they hang away from it. They're painted with glossy coats of auto body paint -- everything from bright citrus colors to gem-toned hues with diamond-dust sparkle. The lines of the shapes are crisp and clean, and the color is so lush and hard-candy shiny that you want to lick it. Eckart designs his shapes on a computer, but that isn't particularly obvious in many of the works. But a recent piece looks like geometric 3-D imaging made manifest. Perturbed Hexagonal Field (2006) is a ten-foot-high rectangle with a surface deeply embossed with a pattern of triangles that create three-dimensional honeycomb shapes. Finished off with a shimmering coat of magenta-gold "extreme effect" paint, it feels like it was yanked from the digital world. Through May 27. McClain Gallery, 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988.

"Gael Stack: The Jim Drawings" Gael Stack's most recent series of drawings at Moody Gallery was done in response to the death of her friend and fellow artist Jim Love. They aren't obvious or maudlin tributes, just thoughtful, delicate collections of images on casually torn sheets of vellum. The unmodeled line drawings are rendered in pencil and colored ink with deliberate lines. They're layered with loose, generally unreadable sections of writing and images culled from her repository of Asiaphile images; floating on the translucent pages, figures of philosophers and elaborately dressed women intermingle with snippets of architecture and text. Viewing these small intimate paintings is like peeking at stray memories plucked from the back of someone's mind. Through May 27. 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911.

"Maria Fernanda Cardoso" Butterflies, cattle bones, sheepskins, starfish, dried frogs and sea horses are all visual elements in Maria Fernanda Cardoso's sculpture and collages on view at Sicardi Gallery. The artist looks for geometry in the natural world, and there is a strong minimalist feeling to the work. Dancing Frogs (2002) is sprinkled with Cardoso's black humor. For the piece, she uses dried frogs that look like an unsquashed version of the "toad jerky" found on Houston streets in the summer. The frogs are impaled on a circle of wire running through their frog butts and out their bellies. Their heads face the viewer. Casting animated-looking shadows against the Sheetrock, they really do seem to be dancing in a circle with their little frog arms raised. In spite of the desiccated frog "ick" factor, it's a jolly piece. At last, a use for dead amphibians! Starfish are the components in Cardoso's most beautiful pieces. In a small floor piece, she links chunky orange tiger starfish together into a sphere like the sections of a geodesic dome. But the two hanging works that use a type of slender-legged starfish are especially stunning. Their loose symmetry makes them perfect for Cardoso's ethereal constructions. Suspended from the gallery ceiling, they feel like delicate fragments falling from some larger entity. While there are other artists out there with an aesthetic that relies on natural materials, Cardoso's take is unique. When she works with the geometry of the natural world, the results are amazing. Through May 27. 2246 Richmond, 713-529-1313.

"Perspectives 151: Dan Steinhilber" There's a piece in this exhibition that looks like the work of a manic clown. The kind of balloons traditionally used by annoying children's-party entertainers to make hats and animals have been twisted, amassed and woven together into a giant dense rectangle. Together they hang on the wall like a brightly colored, inflatable abstract-expressionist painting. Contemporary society is filled with all kinds of crap, and an increasing number of artists are using banal, mass-produced consumer detritus as building-block components for their art. If you do it right, cheap, dumb materials can transcend their origins and become amazing. But in this show, Dan Steinhilber doesn't fare so well. He manages a couple of clever works and a lot of one-liners. Among the clever: the work in which three high-powered blowers force air along the floor toward a pile of greenish Styrofoam packing peanuts in the corner. The air continually blows, forever shifting the pile back into the corner. The piece is participatory -- visitors have taken turns sitting in front of the fans and blocking the airflow, watching the pile of Styrofoam rearrange itself. It's certainly a new take on kinetic work, and it's the strongest piece in the show. Too often, though, Steinhilber just doesn't do enough with his materials. In one work, a slender band of multicolored stripes on the wall turns out to be sticks of gum placed side by side. After the viewer's initial amused realization, the piece falls flat. While Steinhilber comes up with some promising ideas, he doesn't push them far enough. There doesn't seem to be a conceptual consistency in the way he addresses his materials. The show amuses while you're there, but little stays with you once you leave. Through June 4. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer