Capsule Reviews

removed Joy Episalla's removed (2000-2002) is one of the worst examples of conceptual art in recent -- and long-term -- memory. I'm betting Episalla was one of those kids with overly supportive parents who convinced her that anything she did was fascinating to others. Using three separate videos, projected wall-size, Episalla tells a story about her mother's couch -- in an hour and a half of total video. In the center video, she talks to her mother about the couch, one of a pair Episalla tried to sell on eBay. One sold, the other didn't, so she contacted the runners-up and asked them to make an offer on the unsold couch. The woman who wanted it planned to use the fabric to make teddy bears. Episalla's mother, naturally, thinks this is ridiculous. She seems like a nice, fun woman and provides the video's only appeal, but she is far more entertained by her daughter than anyone else is going to be. Episalla goes on to explain that she's going to remove the fabric from the couch and send it to the woman. You keep standing and watching the nearly 30-minute video because you think that can't be the whole premise of this piece. The couch has to have other significance -- maybe someone died on it? Maybe someone was conceived on it? But no, that's the whole story, aside from the fact that the teddy-bear woman later decides the fabric isn't right when she's sent a sample. Episalla tells her mother she'll make her own teddy bears -- she's just that wacky. Side videos show Episalla, clad in arty black, posing on the couch and on the couch's stripped frame. She's sporting what look like white-girl dreads -- the better to shock her mother. The videos show her stripping the fabric and sawing the couch apart. There is no point to any of this and no real irony or self-deprecating humor about trying to mine a not-overly-interesting story for an entire video installation. It's not often that art pisses me off, but with removed, I walked away mad as hell that Episalla had stolen time from my life for this overly produced piece of narcissism. The installation should be titled See Mommy, Aren't I Clever?. What the hell was this artist thinking? removed is a part of "Coming Home: Domestic Sites of Love and Loss," which runs through December 18 at the Houston Center for Photography, 1441 W. Alabama, 713-529-4755.

"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.

"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