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.

"Demetrius Oliver: Extracts" Demetrius Oliver uses himself as a kind of prop in his own photos. For his large color prints, Oliver coats himself with substances, adorns himself with objects and swathes himself with materials. One of the most successful of his images, not in the show, was a piece in which he coated his entire head with chocolate frosting. It was weird and mildly gross, a visceral pun on being black/chocolate. But making work within these parameters is hit-and-miss. Sometimes things in the show really resonate, as in a close-up image of the artist with a lump of coal in his mouth, or another of him saddled with an albatrosslike bag of trash around his neck. But sometimes the photographs seem too glossy and superficial, with the images being too much of a one-liner, as in his Totem photograph, in which he sports layers of pants and underwear. Chart, a series of slide projections in which the artist uses a piece of raw bacon to slowly mop up sawdust, is icky and mesmerizing. In the show, it seems that Oliver doesn't know how far into the icky he wants to go -- or if that is where he wants to go. He can't decide whether to really dive into and wallow in the abject the way William Pope.L does. There is no one correct solution, but Oliver does have to decide. Through April 1 at Inman Gallery, 3901 Main, 713-526-7800.

"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.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer