Capsule Reviews

"Detoured" Police barriers are neatly tiled with mirrors like a disco ball. Concrete barriers are decoratively slip-covered in orange-and-white fabric that ties in bows on each end. Traffic cone piñatas are covered in ruffled orange paper. Houstonians will recognize all these objects as hallmarks of our city's loathed and never-ending highway construction, but they've been given a strangely decorative twist by Yumi Janairo Roth in this show at Lawndale Art Center. A series of photographs on the walls of the main gallery documents Roth's work "in-situ" around Houston. An HPD cop looks perplexed standing next to the Disco Barrier. The Piñata (Cone) is shown being struck by a car in a parking lot; in the aftermath, kids scramble for candy. The sculptures are really quirky and original, but something seems to be missing. They would really be best served by a large-scale, site-specific installation. Just think about how much better we would react to highway closures if they were more festive and attractive. Through January 30. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858.

"Perspectives 149: It's Only Rock 'n' Roll" "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll" isn't only rock and roll. The exhibition features almost 200 photographs of figures from the history of rock, but there's also a smattering of greats from hip-hop, folk, jazz, soul...It's the kind of show that would make a nice coffee-table book. But it's interesting to see in its entirety, with the subjects staring out at the viewers. The mainly black-and-white exhibition is hung salon-style, and the walls are jam-packed with images. It's filled with photos of music legends, taken when they were young, naive and unaware of what the future had in store for them. There's sexagenarian Mick Jagger looking like he's 12, a 1978 shot of Prince in a big Afro and a really dorky wedding photograph of Ringo Starr. In another image, Ike and Tina Turner pose beside a smiling painted portrait of themselves -- and Ike isn't smiling. There's a gorgeous color shot by photography great Lee Friedlander: a close-up of Aretha Franklin singing in a lime-green sweater, lavender eye shadow and Marlo Thomas hair. There are also people you forgot about...anybody remember Grace Jones? And there are photographs of the doomed Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Frank Zappa, Tupac Shakur, Kurt Cobain, Sid Vicious, Elvis... Through January 22 at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

"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.

"Thornton Dial in the 21st Century" Thornton Dial's art is dynamic, intense and cut with social and political references. He builds up the surfaces of his paintings not with paint but with detritus. Meat (2003) has an undulating surface painted in raw, visceral pinks and reds; it's constructed from wads of clothing attached to a panel and coated in thick gloopy paint that shines like marbled flesh. It's a brutal work; the surface feels violent, like flesh and bone have been ripped apart. In the upper-right part of the painting is a tiny rectangle of red-and-white-striped fabric with a dark brushed outline that looks like an American flag. It's attached to the carnage of the painting like a product label: Made in the U.S.A. In addition to the artist's constructions on panels, this show includes drawings and freestanding sculptural works. All in all, there are 78 works, all done since 2000. The number and strength of works Dial has created in five years is impressive. Although his approach to materials remains consistent, his ideas and subject matter are continuously evolving. Overall, the work resists becoming formulaic and repetitive, a danger with high-productivity artists. But there are less successful works in the show -- ones that feel overworked and could have been edited out for a tighter presentation. What Dial really needs is a retrospective. It would be wonderful to see the evolution of his work. The man is pushing 80. Through January 8 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 5601 Main, 713-639-7300.

"Traffic" Kelly Pike's video installation Portrait #7268 (2005) is the standout of "Traffic," the Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County's presentation of work by recipients of its 2005 Artist Fellowship Awards. Pike is known for primarily her sculptures and installations -- like the giant "humidity chamber" she created for an exhibition about Houston. But Portrait is a performance piece in which the artist creates and plays a character. Three video monitors present uncomfortably close shots of her playing a woman with an obsessive desire to be on a reality TV show called Biggest Brother. The first presents an "audition tape" with a homemade quality, in which we meet a neurotic, geeky, lonely character who writes notes on the wall about things she will say to a yet-to-be-met boyfriend. Her -- apparently only -- "friend" is a co-worker named Joan whom she has never talked to but seems to be stalking. In the following tapes, Pike is auditioned by the show, and she reveals that she works as an eyeglass technician. She refers to herself as a "lens crafter" but doesn't actually work at Lenscrafters. There have been video projects in a similar vein by other artists, but Pike's piece really works well. She has wonderful delivery and displays both a keen wit and a knack for the absurd. And somehow, the character she creates is believable. Through January 11 at Space 125 Gallery, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-9330.

"Visual Language" "Visual Language" at Mackey Gallery includes work by Ronald Moran. Moran coats things with sheets of fluffy-white polyester batting. He then creates life-size narrative compositions out of his quotidian objects -- there's a chair with a belt draped over it, an ironing board and iron, a school desk. The results are hazy and otherworldly, like furniture made from white clouds, a Hollywood set for heaven. At Mackey, he's built little corner backdrops for the objects that unfortunately stop the illusion short; the construction isn't seamless. He's apparently done entire rooms for other projects, and a larger space would create a more convincing environment here. Moran's photographs of his sets work best, creating contained, illusory images. But his paintings of the fuzzy objects are one too many variations on the same theme. They just aren't that well painted, and they aren't nearly as successful as the photographs or the compositions themselves. Through December 31. 5111 Center, 713-850-8527.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer
Keith Plocek
Contact: Keith Plocek