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.

"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.

"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 to make the work more than it is and instead focus on the visual. Through June 23. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer