Capsule Reviews

"Alex Katz" Alex Katz made his name with hard-edged, flattened portraits. But just shy of 80, the painter has loosened up considerably. He's still interested in flat color and abstracted form, but his work has gotten looser and brushier. His show at Texas Gallery features a lovely collection of small quick sketches in paint; underlying their seeming casualness is Katz's immense skill as a painter. The elegant, masterful Birches, a ten-foot vertical painting, depicts simplified, angled trunks of trees with a flutter of green leaves hovering around them, set against a golden yellow background. In other paintings, Katz focuses on spare landscapes and architectural forms; Night Light (2003) features a lonely garage illuminated against a blue-black mass of trees. Katz's missteps occur in paintings such as Blizzard 2 (2005) and 6:30 a.m. (2004), in which he tries to convey barely visible conditions. He loses his grip, and the paintings, too subtle to register, slip away. Through April 8. 2012 Peden, 713-524-1593.

"Girls' Night Out" This exhibition presents works by women who explore the concept of "girl." Group shows are notoriously uneven, and this is no exception. Organized by the Orange County Museum of Art, "Girls' Night Out" presents an overall vision of girls/women that's heavy on awkwardness, angst and mental illness. Still, there are standouts. Rineke Dijkstra's photos and video project have a palpable humanity and empathy. For her video installation The Buzzclub, Liverpool, England/Mysteryworld, Zaandam, Netherlands (1996-97), Dijkstra set up a video camera in two European clubs for young people. You can hear the music coming from the dance floor as a variety of kids stand in bright light against a white backdrop, dancing awkwardly. Dijkstra makes us smile at and feel for the awkwardness of these kids in their cheap synthetic club clothes, trying so hard to be older, sexy and cool. Her work is as straightforward in its conception as it is multidimensional in its effects. Two other artists who fare especially well are Daniela Rossell, who photographs wealthy families in Mexico, and Katy Grannan, who creates portraits of the middle-class and unknown in places like Poughkeepsie. But much of the work in the show feels too self-absorbed, too staged and just too irritating. Dorit Cypis's photographs of herself standing behind bars are guilty of this crime. Ditto the "Oh, let me pause in my nervous breakdown to photograph myself" images of Elina Brotherus. The exhibition's main problem lies in the number of affectedly arty, convoluted and self-involved works on view. They aren't interesting art, nor are they the kind of art interesting women make. Through April 1 at the Blaffer Gallery, 120 Fine Arts Building, University of Houston, 713-743-9528.

"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 Juarez 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 Juarez. 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 Munoz remembers the dead in Pixels (2003), portraits 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.

"Visions and Revelations" This first ever retrospective of works by Argentine architect and avant-garde artist Xul Solar features more than 90 pieces. Solar painted on everything from classic canvas to tarot cards to magazine covers to a wooden foldout tabernacle. Most of his art attempts to meld two different realms: the paranormal and reality, life and death, peace and chaos. He had a strange fetish for stark geometric shapes as well as ghostlike human figures, and almost every work contains both, to some degree. The painting Walls and Stairs depicts oddly shaped staircases reaching into a misty, moonlit night, with eerie human forms listlessly wandering through the landscape. Another painting, Thirteen Saint Masts, portrays human heads floating atop ship masts. The artist's work is a hazy interpretation of Russian painter Marc Chagall, expressing the same oddities of life but with a lighter use of color. The retrospective is laid out in chronological order, so the viewer can trace the development of Solar's interests, from basic geometric designs to architectural landscapes to Latin American spirituality. Through April 16. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7597.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer
John Tompkins