Capsule Reviews

"Artists Responding to Violence" FotoFest 2006 has not one but two themes: "The Earth" and "Artists Responding to Violence." The majority of the "Artists Responding to Violence" segment is at FotoFest's Vine Street headquarters. It's a typical FotoFestian conglomeration. The standouts at Vine Street are two videos: Two Brothers and Mouths of Ash by Juan Manuel Echavarr#146a. In both videos, a series of Colombians who have survived massacres sing haunting songs about what they have witnessed. The camera holds in tightly on their faces, ravaged by life, poverty and what they have seen. It's an incredibly moving work that makes you want to immerse yourself in their faces and their laments. Also addressing violence in Latin America, the series El Lamento de los Muros (The Wailing of the Walls) consists of large-scale, gritty black-and-white images by Paula Luttringer. Luttringer photographed the interiors of notorious Argentine secret prisons where people, Luttringer among them, were "disappeared" during the country's "Dirty War." The photographs are dark and purposely indistinct as they record the brutal, decrepit spaces where people were held. Some of the least literal works in the show are Liza Nguyen's images from her trip to her father's native Vietnam. Nguyen took samples of soil from notorious sites such as My Lai, where U.S. troops massacred more than 300 civilians, and Dien Bien Phu, the site of the epic French defeat. She poured the soil out and photographed it against a stark white background, printing the color images about four feet high. The enlarged dirt particles yield no stories in and of themselves. But we project the history of the place onto them -- the napalm bombs, the bullets, the blood, the Agent Orange. The dirt bears witness to the lingering emotional, physical and environmental impacts of war. There are some other decent works in the show, but much of what remains runs to mildly interesting photojournalism and awkward digital photography. Through April 23. 1113 Vine Street, 713-223-5522.

"Indelible Images: Trafficking Between Life and Death" This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston under the direction of Gilbert Vicario, assistant curator of Latin American Art. It's a well-chosen and provocative show featuring politically charged, often poignant works by Latin American and Latino artists. Los Angeles artist Daniel Martinez's TO MAKE A BLIND MAN MURDER FOR THE THINGS HE'S SEEN (Happiness Is Over-Rated) (2002) features an animatronic man crouched in a corner, swiping at his wrists with razor blades and laughing maniacally. Dressed as Martinez's double in the navy-blue work clothes we associate with maintenance workers in the United States, the wrist-slashing janitor becomes a metaphor for desperation spurred by socioeconomic inequality. True to its name, this tight exhibition is filled with ruminations on life and death. Mexican artist Teresa Margolles's art draws attention to the hundreds of women along the El Paso/Ciudad Ju#135rez border who have been sexually assaulted, murdered and dumped in the desert. Her DVD Anapra y Cristo Negro (2005) presents nighttime images of the desolate landscape surrounding Ciudad Ju#135rez. Cuban-born artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres is represented with his 1991 sculpture Untitled (For a Man in Uniform), made at the time of the first Gulf War. Gonzalez-Torres, who lost a lover to AIDS and eventually died of it himself, was attuned to death and loss, not to mention the political climate for gay men. The sculpture consists of a mound of lollipops piled in the corner of the room. Viewers are encouraged to take away a piece, slowly disintegrating the "body" represented by the candy. Colombian artist Oscar Mu#150oz remembers the dead in Pixels (2003), portraits of assassinated men made of sugar cubes painted with coffee -- materials associated with his native country. This is an extremely well curated show built around intriguing ideas and interesting artists. Through April 30. 5601 Main, 713-639-7300.

"Mariah Anne Johnson: How to Fold a Fitted Sheet" "How to Fold a Fitted Sheet" sounds like the topic of a circa-1953 home-ec lecture, but it's actually the title of Mariah Anne Johnson's exhibition at Lawndale Art Center. Johnson takes the former contents of countless linen closets and uses them to create sculpture. She neatly folds and layers sheets on shelves, interweaving them with the occasional crocheted doily. Their colors and patterns create multihued strata, and the stacks of folded edges read like paintings. Johnson rolls the sheets into roselike bundles and stacks them into a bouquet of folds and fans them out in a corner. The softly faded qualities of the fabric give a warmth and hominess to the pieces, and they make you wonder about the individual histories of their components. While "art with old sheets" doesn't exactly sound like a promising concept, Johnson really makes it work. Through April 29. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858.

"Robert Kelly" Robert Kelly is showing some well-crafted and solid work at Barbara Davis Gallery. Kelly glues old Dutch posters facedown on canvas to create surfaces with vintage patinas and a yellowed weightiness. The posters offer glimpses of words in reverse, and the letters become faint formal elements (although Dutch is goofy enough without being reversed). The forms Kelly paints on his burnished surfaces are crisply and beautifully executed and well composed. The solid, rounded shapes and emphatic lines and blocks of black and red are clean and contemporary but with a Constructivist feeling to them. Perhaps he was inspired by some of the underlying posters, which seem to have been for a show of early Soviet work. In any case, these new paintings are much more confident and less fussy than his work from several years ago. Through April 22. 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer