"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 Juárez 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 Juárez. 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 Muñoz 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.
"Julian Schnabel: Amor Misericordioso" Costumed as an eccentric artist, Julian Schnabel wore purple pajamas to the jam-packed opening of his exhibition at McClain Gallery. In his sleepwear, the considerably dimmed '80s art star reportedly greeted the likes of Lynn Wyatt and Carolyn Farb. Schnabel's new show is something one art-world insider delicately characterized as "total dog shit." Not exactly a glowing recommendation, but you have to keep an open mind. Art people can be overly cynical, especially when it involves a target as big as Schnabel. They are big paintings, and size does work to Schnabel's advantage; it creates an immediate aura of importance. It's just that when you start to actually look at the paintings, things fall apart. Most of them are done over giant photo reproductions from parts of a religious print containing text that's also the show's title: "Amor Misericordioso." The phrase translates as "merciful love," a merciful love for the impoverished, sick and uneducated. How exactly that concept ties in to paintings with $300,000 and up price tags is mysterious. The billboard-size blow-up of Spanish catholica is what provides the works their scant visual interest. Over the vastly enlarged partial images of a crown resting on a pillow that reads "Christ the King," Schnabel has sparingly smeared lines of white and cerulean blue paint, scrawled and dripped magenta, and drizzled, dotted and squeegeed resin. This would be the artist expressing himself. The opening, it seems, was the real art. When you strip away all the hype, staging and mythology, what you're left with is a theatrical prop -- a dead thing, devoid of all the factors that made it appealing. Through March 4 at McClain Gallery, 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988.