"Mel Chin: Do Not Ask Me" In his work, Mel Chin addresses political and social issues as well as science, philosophy and the environment. It's an agenda that sounds pedantic and dry, but Chin's a smart artist and his conceptual work leans toward the poetic. Take Extraction of Plenty from What Remains 1823 (1989), a sculpture in which two gargantuan white columns -- replicas of White House pillars -- crush a massive but empty cornucopia between them. It's a stark juxtaposition of power and poverty; the roughly woven "horn of plenty" is made of "Honduran mahogany, banana fibers, coffee, mud and blood," the stuff of Central America during the '80s -- the blood in particular. The first column ends in the jagged outline of President James Monroe's signature; the second, that of Ronald Reagan. The Monroe Doctrine started out supposedly as a stance against the colonizing impulses of Europe, but, culminating with Reagan, it became synonymous with the United States' brutal policies and covert activities in Central America -- Salvadoran and Honduran death squads, guns pouring into Guatemala, you name it... Who the hell would've thought you could make interesting art about the Monroe Doctrine? And, thankfully for the viewer, Chin isn't interested in making purposefully obscure references you're supposed to decode. His titles come with brief statements that set out his ideas. He tells you about the signature outlines at the top of those columns in Extraction, a detail no one would figure out. And, by the way, Extraction is but one of the powerful works on view in this show. Chin has occasional brushes with heavy-handedness, but overall he manages to stay on message and artistically on target. His work makes you think -- and feel. Through April 30 at The Station, 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900.
"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.