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.

"From Myth to Life: Images of Women from the Classical World" The West has long lionized Greek civilization, but most Greek women probably wouldn't have agreed with the way their society has been idealized and romanticized over the centuries. Completely excluded from public life, Greek women rarely were allowed to leave the confines of their homes. "From Myth to Life: Images of Women from the Classical World" presents artifacts from the Celia and Walter Gilbert Collection that depict or were created for women. A red-figured calyx krater shows a scene of mythological domestic violence in which Lykourgos, euphemistically described as driven mad by the god of wine, has killed his son and is about to take out his wife. Other objects are more benign, like a slender but ornate gold stickpin topped with a tiny sculpture of Aphrodite and Eros. A tiny terra-cotta mouse possibly used as an infant feeder stands out as a poignant domestic artifact. Through July 31 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300.

"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.

"Juried Membership Exhibition" A "juried membership exhibition" sounds about as exciting as an annual typing-teacher conference. But the Houston Center for Photography's Juried Membership Exhibition has pulled out some interesting work. Houstonian Deborah Bay received the Juror's Choice Award for her moody color photographs of tiny plastic figures in staged scenes. The images are blurred, so you can't quite make out the figures or place the setting. Looking closely at one of the photos, you can pick out something that looks like a computer cord, but the image remains enigmatic. Meanwhile, Sugar Land photographer Jennifer Greenwell gives us a grid of portraits of single-wide trailers. The deadpan shots are taken from the end of the trailer and show the homes in various states of decay and decoration. Bed sheets and tinfoil cover the windows, while aftermarket purple paint jobs and wrought-iron ornamentation cover the exteriors. Through July 24. 1441 West Alabama, 713-529-4755.

"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.

"Printed Art" Kiki Smith's wallpaper is one of the coolest things in this print exhibition, which is filled with heavy hitters. Weeping Willow Wallpaper (2003) features delicately drawn strands of leaves painted a pale watery blue. At $350 a roll, it's ridiculously expensive for wallpaper but pretty damn cheap for art. A tripartite Robert Rauschenberg lithograph is especially interesting, as it presents the Port Arthur-born artist's autobiography through text and symbolic images, including a map of the Texas coast. Fellow Texas artist Vernon Fisher has a great color lithograph, Man Cutting Globe (1995), with a '50s-style image of a father in a white shirt and tie, showing his son how to carve up the planet. There's also a rare Andy Warhol serigraph, Birmingham Race Riot (1964), an unusually political work from the artist. Through July 31 at Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery, 4520 Blossom, 713-863-7097.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer