Capsule Reviews

"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.

"Glenn Ligon: Some Changes" Two boats, one blue and one orange, rest on the floor. From a video screen, we hear artist Glenn Ligon telling his therapist about making a papier-mch boat in school and painting it blue and orange. When his teacher asked him why he didn't paint it in prettier colors, he painted the boat black. The choice was part rebellion and part affirmation for the African-American kid. Looking at his work as an adult, you see similar impulses. The therapy video and the boat sculptures are part of the exhibition "Glenn Ligon: Some Changes" at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, which presents a survey of the artist's work and the evolution of his creative process. To his credit, Ligon makes work that can't be summed up neatly. As you move through the exhibition, the one constant is an autobiographical impulse. It starts out faint and grows progressively stronger as the artist matures and seems to become more comfortable with himself. The videotaped therapy session is the culmination of his autobiographical exploration. During the session, Ligon talks about art, remembers his childhood and tells interesting stories. And thankfully, he isn't sharing this stuff in a self-important manner; it's as if he were simply trying to figure things out. You find yourself liking him, interested in what he says and in his honesty about his insecurity. Psychoanalyzing artists and their work can be a really bad, boring idea, but the things Ligon shares make sense in the context of his work. As he removes barriers between himself and the viewer, his work just gets stronger. Through April 9. 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

"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 Jurez 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 Jurez. 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 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.

"Portraits" and "Purse Portraits" Do you mind if people look in your medicine cabinet? How about if they peer at the contents of your purse? Well, two photographers are doing just that, presenting intimate -- but anonymous -- portraits of people through the stuff in their bathrooms and purses. Coke Wisdom O'Neal's "Portraits" and Chuck Ramirez's "Purse Portraits" at Finesilver Gallery are full of nosy and intriguing images. O'Neal lives in New York and has a day job photographing architecture for a real estate company, a gig that gives him unfettered access to the homes of complete strangers. An inveterate medicine-cabinet peeper, he's channeled it into his art, photographically documenting the objects of his snooping. He prints the images life-size, mounts them on the back of Plexiglas and hangs them away from the wall, just like the real thing. He has duplicated the experience of voyeurism just for us. Looking at the images, you naturally try to picture the person behind each cabinet. So, um, who has five huge jars of Vaseline? An obsessive hoarder? Ramirez also explores intimate territory. He photographs purses in lush color against a white background and prints them up to five feet high. High Times (Rudy) (2005) actually depicts a "murse," or man-purse. It's a gorgeous leather briefcase containing a copy of High Times magazine, the arts section of The New York Times and a copy of The Economist. There's a rolled-up tie, a Continental OnePass Elite membership card and a tin of "Embarassmints" with the top of Bush's head barely revealed. The contents create the portrait of an affluent, well-traveled, left-wing guy who likes to smoke weed. Through May 13. 3913 Main, 713-524-3733.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer