Capsule Reviews

"Amy Arbus: Rites and Rituals" This show presents work by Amy Arbus, the daughter of legendary photographer Diane Arbus. Diane is a tough act for any photographer to follow, and it has to be even tougher if you're her daughter. But Amy has taken up the challenge, and she's been working as a professional photographer for 22 years. The way she hones in on people's strangeness in her photos reminds you of her mother's work, but where Diane Arbus's photographs were almost exclusively black-and-white, most of her daughter's works on view at Watermark Fine Art Photographs and Books are in bright, lurid color. There's an interesting series of girls and young women in elaborate dance costumes and excessive makeup. In one, a skinny girl from an Irish dance competition with a paper crown and an unearthly mass of tight reddish ringlets stares sullenly at the camera. All in all, there are some nice images here, but it's incredibly difficult to look at them objectively and independently, free from the shadow of Diane Arbus. Through September 1. 3503 Lake, 713-528-8686.

"Dennis Harper" Dennis Harper has some big-ticket items in his show at Rudolph Projects/ArtScan Gallery: There's a shiny red Harley-Davidson and a Steinway grand piano. But Harper isn't engaged in some high-end Duchampian exercise. He has created replicas of these objects from foam core, wood and paper. Walk in the gallery, and you're confronted by Harper's Paper Motorcycle, a wonderfully oversize work with a ridiculous level of detail. Everything from the tire treads to the chain to oil spots on the floor under the engine has been exactly simulated by Harper. His Steinway sculpture, Fermata Thin Air, levitates in the second gallery for jaw-dropping effect. Convincingly crafted with the same lightweight materials he used for the motorcycle, it's suspended from the ceiling by thin wires. Harper's obsessive attention to detail continues here -- the end of the glossy black piano is raised higher than the keyboard, allowing you to see the faux bois painting the artist has done to the underside, wonderfully duplicating the look of wood. Even the Steinway logo over the shiny keys has been included via color Xerox. Harper has some amazing work that blends his phenomenal craftsmanship with pop appeal. Through August 20. 1836 Richmond, 713-807-1836.

"Gordon Terry: Passport to Magonia" Gordon Terry has an interesting approach to materials. He pours out thick skins of acrylic -- often freezing them -- and then swirls in or puddles other colors on top. In previous work, he has adhered pools of acrylic onto glossy acrylic panels. But more recently, he's been stretching these skins over clear acrylic frames. There's something incredibly tactile about these smooth, glossy, rubbery-looking paintings. The results are sort of like woven fabric, because the ground and the image are one in the same. The best stuff in this exhibition is located in New Gallery's back gallery, which is filled with skins of swirling colors that have a lush, psychedelic feeling to them. Terry's work captures pigment in the act of intermingling. Through August 15. 2627 Colquitt, 713-520-7053.

"Mario Reis: Blindfolded drawings" A photograph shows German artist Mario Reis sitting in a lawn chair with a black sleep mask over his eyes and a drawing board in front of him. Behind him is a grassland panorama with low hills. Reis has a pencil taped to each index finger and holds his hands over a sheet of white paper on the drawing board. The image documents the artist's art-making process; the idea is that Reis will try to hold his hands perfectly still. But nobody, not even the most determined, obnoxious mime, can remain perfectly still. It's even harder with your hands out in front of you, registering every breath and every tremor in your muscles. So what Reis ends up with are not mere dots from the tips of the pencils, but feathery lines and delicate scribbles. What do unintentional pencil drawings made by a blindfolded man look like? Two words: pubic hair. Well, except for the ones done with a rainbow of colored pencils -- those look like clown pubic hair. But that's not a bad thing. Surrounded by white space, they're really subtle and elegant. And to be honest, they don't all look just like pubic hair -- some of them look like pubic hair and lint. Reis likes his process art, and it's not limited to the blindfold drawings. Two of the artist's "nature watercolors" are included in this show. For these works, Reis takes stretched pieces of raw, unprimed canvas and places them in a river or stream for days to accumulate silt, algae and pollution. Sometimes he weighs them down with rocks to collect more sediment. The canvases are then left to dry and are fixed with polyvinyl acetate glue. The show includes a photo of a canvas floating facedown in a slow stream, tethered to the bank with a piece of string, like a trot line. If you've ever dropped a clean white shirt onto red dirt, you can pretty much imagine what these "nature watercolors" look like. The process is intriguing, but things would be even better if the work it produced was more interesting. The concept makes for better copy than it does for good art. Through August 14 at Gallery Sonja Roesch, 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424.

"Michael Bise: Widow" At Moody Gallery, Michael Bise's series of narrative pencil drawings tells the story of a widow with three daughters. Bise is working in the tradition of purposefully awkward teen-esque drawings, but there's something pleasantly obsessive about his work and his attention to evocative suburban detail. You look at the drawings and think I know someone like this, I've been in houses like this. There are hokey fringed lamps, kitschy snow-village Christmas decorations, an ugly entertainment center, a little scraggly dog wriggling on shag carpeting and a prom picture of a daughter on an interracial date. In one drawing, the widow lies under a floral bedspread on one side of a too-big bed, staring at a portrait of her husband. Another, nocturnal scene depicts the facade of a suburban home with a meticulously and magically rendered night sky. But the work breaks down when Bise tries to make the drawings more awkward than they are. His addition of the same cartoon snub nose on all the characters is really irritating. And, in the scene in which the wife and three daughters surround the gurney that carries the dead husband and father, the perspective is purposely skewed so that the figures levitate rather than stand on the floor. In another image, a nightstand is torqued in a way that's completely inconsistent with the way the rest of the drawing is rendered. Bise needs to stop trying to make his drawings more awkward than they are. His eye for telling detail and penchant for narrative are the strengths in his work. Through August 13. 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911.

"Salvador Diaz: A Crow and Some Oranges" A self-portrait cutout of Salvador Diaz greets you as you walk into his show at Mackey Gallery. It's full-length and depicts the artist with fashionably tousled hair modeling a nonchalantly loose black suit over a white shirt unbuttoned over his chest. It's a beautifully painted piece, but Diaz has carefully made himself look slightly more attractive in the painting than he is in real life. That's always kind of cheesy unless there's also a healthy dose of irony. There doesn't appear to be much irony going on here, because if you look at the artist's Web site, it opens with a dramatic photograph of him shirtless and staring intently at the viewer. But Diaz is skillful painter. His work is figurative and surreal, with a dose of Julian Schnabel-esque neo-Expressionism. Schnabel's name is even scrawled across one of Diaz's works. (Is Schnabel so out, he's in again?) Diaz's painterly ruminations use a variety of materials. He paints on a chalkboard and on old copies of The New York Times and El Norte. There is a painting of a Mexican government identification document. There are traditional paintings with surreal imagery, as well as an interesting painting with a surreal sculptural attachment, which depicts a young girl standing on her head. The painting rests on the floor, leaning up against the wall, and has a big tube of fabric growing out of the top and arcing down, ending in a pair of tennis shoes. Together, his artworks create a portrait of a young artist with a lot of creativity, talent and possibly just a little too much ego. Through August 13. 5111 Colquitt, 713-850-8527.

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