Capsule Reviews

"Round 23" For the latest round of installations at Project Row Houses, Michael Golden has hung hundreds (maybe thousands) of keys inside one row house, covering an entire wall with these multicolored bits of metal. More keys dangle from other walls, placed there by visitors who have written their hopes and secrets on tags attached to them. The visual effect is appealing enough, but the accompanying literature drips more cheese than a plate of soggy nachos. "This installation explores the key as a metaphor to unlocking dreams and locking up secrets," it reads. If this project were in a museum, it probably would upset the stomachs of even the most lactose-tolerant, but at PRH it somehow works, especially when you see how many people have participated. In his space, artist Jimmy Kuehnle has set up 30 televisions, all stacked up and strewn about at odd angles. Tiny cameras are placed around the house, filming visitors and feeding the TVs. The trick is that the televisions are set up so you can never see yourself; every time you get within view of a monitor, you've just walked out of range of its corresponding camera. The installation is clever and does make a statement about how we're monitored all the time without knowing it, but it's pretty straightforward; there's little room for nuance in the confines of this house. Then again, it's easy to imagine how much fun could be had in there by the kids of the single mothers staying in the row houses across the courtyard. Then there's Kaneem Smith's installation, which deals with the unknown in a palpable way. She has covered the floor of her house in dirt and gravel, and from the ceiling hangs what looks like a large curtain of burlap. But as you walk around the curtain, trying to see what's on the other side, you end up right back where you started; it's a closed loop, a clever trick. And it's easily the most interesting installation in this round. Through February 28. 2500 Holman, 713-526-7662.

"Virginia Fleck" San Antonio-based Finesilver Gallery has opened its new Houston branch with two exhibitions. Virginia Fleck's show is the standout. Fleck is enamored with the artistic potential of plastic bags, a material generally overlooked, even by inveterate art-materials scroungers. In the past, Fleck has taped together plastic bags to create a giant patchwork balloon, producing a lightweight work she showed in Cuba. Her current series of works plays on mandala forms -- but with shopping bags from chain megastores. There are all the usual suspects -- Wal-Mart, Walgreens, The Home Depot, Target -- as well as generic "Thank You" bags and plastic packaging from toilet paper and My Little Pony. Fleck takes all that consumer detritus and creates enormous circular wall works with multicolored bands that radiate out from the center. It's all held together with dense layers of obsessively applied Scotch tape. Her choice of imagery can be pointed. The creepy Wal-Mart smiley face stares out like a corporate Big Brother. And in allah dollar mandala (2006), Fleck ringed the circle with script Ws from the Walgreens logo because of their similarity to the Arabic script for Allah. The works display a dramatic visual impact peppered with a topical wit. Through February 18. 3913 Main, 713-524-3733.

"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
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Keith Plocek
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John Tompkins