Capsule Reviews

"Andrea Bowers: Letters to an Army of Three" For her installation at the Glassell School of Art, Andrea Bowers has constructed a video around actual letters written to the "Army of Three" — Pat Maginnis, Rowena Gurner and Lana Phelan, three women who worked as abortion advocates and as a clearinghouse for abortion information in the 1960s and '70s. At the time, the only abortion services available were back-alley practitioners, clinics in Mexico, a few legitimate doctors who performed abortions in secret, and a few states with loopholes for special cases. The "Army of Three" saved the hundreds of letters they received from desperate women, husbands, boyfriends and parents trying to find medically safe abortion providers. For the exhibition, Bowers has created a video installation that presents actors reading from the letters. She has also included a bound book containing Xeroxes of the letters — with all personal information blacked out. And in the small side gallery she has displayed colored pencil drawings whose subjects include pro-choice artifacts. Hearing the letters read aloud is fascinating, but the video itself is problematic. Some of the actors over-dramatize, and between each reading, the camera painfully, slowly fades in and out on different flower arrangements. Bowers seems to be trying to introduce an element of the decorative throughout the show. The bound Xeroxes of letters are interleaved with sections of wrapping paper. There is nothing wrong with that, but the choices she's making need to have more to do with the subject at hand. The copies of the letters themselves are ultimately the most powerful part of the show. Through March 5 at the Glassell School of Art, 5101 Montrose Boulevard, 713-639-7500.

"The Birth of a Nation Yo! Bum Rush the Show" Dawolu Jabari Anderson's new works at the Art League Houston use D.W. Griffith's infamously racist 1915 film The Birth of a Nation as a source of inspiration. Anderson creates large paintings on paper that are reminiscent of vintage comic book covers. Each one has the headline "D.W. Griffith Presents, The Night Rider" in vintage script and lettering, with a muscle-bound white hero in Klan-esque garb defeating menacing black men. The Night Rider brandishes a flaming cross while pursued by winged black men in "Protecting Our Aryan Birth Right from a Negro Nation." In another image, The Night Rider battles it out with the likes of Uncle Ben; Anderson has stripped any PC veneer from Uncle Ben to reveal a racist caricature. In yet another, The Night Rider dukes it out with Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, who sparked race riots when he won his title in 1908 and was later jailed for associating with white women. Anderson sums things up with the headlines "The Menacing Nympho Negro" and "Only our Aryan Knight can save the heavy weight championship of the world and the chastity of our white women from the Ethiopian." The paper of Anderson's paintings is tattered and aged, and while the issues are presented in a vintage context, they aren't exactly a thing of the past. White paranoia and demonization of African-Americans continue. Remember the Katrina coverage with black people shown "looting" diapers and water, while white people were said to be "finding" necessary supplies? D.W. Griffith's spirit lives on. Anderson's images are well composed and the text is pointed and savvy. The images have spots of color but are dominated by black line drawings on the yellowed ground. Shown all together, they run together a bit a less restrained use of color would make them more dynamic. It's an opportune time for the Art League Houston to present his work, as Anderson is a founding member of Otabenga Jones & Associates, and his work and work by the collective will be included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Through March 3. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530.

"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 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 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.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer