Capsule Reviews

"Evidence" Tracking trends in contemporary painting is as futile as clutching smoke. You can't be sure until years later that what you're promoting is going to catch fire, heat up your audience and interest them enough so they'll spend their cash to collect it. Inman Gallery has mounted another of its "Evidence" shows to spotlight what it sees as the direction painting is going. This small exhibition -- five artists, 11 works -- proves the maxim that the more things change, the more they stay the same. All the works are "gestural," meaning if it's supposed to be a face, it'll look like a face. Abstraction and geometric forms are used as great splashy overlays of color, but the age-old tradition of lifelike drawing is much in evidence in these landscapes and figures. Four of the five artists are graduates of Yale or the famous Rhode Island School of Design, which may be a trend in itself. As for the works, two from Whitney Bedford's primitive, blood-blobbed "Broken Hand" series are two more than enough. They're small, too general in subject and fairly ugly. The landscapes by Tomory Dodge and Tom McGrath -- though alive with crosshatching brushstrokes and, in McGrath's case, a wavy, hallucinogenic quality -- are nothing special. More telling is Norwegian Haavard Homstvedt's sad, slightly creepy Stripes vs. Solids, a sepia homage to old-timey daguerreotypes. His chubby, almost identical Botero-faced boys smile at us with guilty secrets. Dominating the show is Houstonian Angela Fraleigh's nevertheless. Monumental and frescolike, its two female Renaissance faces peer out as one hand pushes against the edge of the frame; both are smothered under abstract splotches of oozing sea-green, as if drowning. Lacquer drips down the canvas, and we can't be sure if these women are being uncovered under their impasto or being walled in. It's a big painting, dreamlike and immediately haunting. Through May 14. 3901 Main, 713-526-7800.

"I Could Build Rome in a Day" J Hill is showing some provocative new work in the rear gallery at Lawndale Art Center. Lately, he's been playing with ideas of home and domesticity. (In a piece at Project Row Houses, he slipcovered a row house in clear plastic.) The first piece you see is the text of the show's title engraved in brass on a black plaque, a witty work that sets a scrappy, can-do tone. On one wall of the gallery is a stereo playing an audio track incorporating ambient sounds recorded from Hill's daily life: Tinkling music from his daughter's music box intermingles with scraps of Nirvana and not-quite-audible conversation. A photograph of part of the wood framing of a house is hung on an opposite wall, and mounted in the ceiling next to it is a "hypersonic sound projector"; when you stand under it, you hear the sound of voices and a running shower. The use of audio is interesting, and it feeds into the domestic and autobiographical themes, but it doesn't completely click with the other works. The show needs some sort of unifying element that would cinch everything together into an installation. The real gem is the video projection on the back wall. Hill sings his life story to the tune of "Camptown Races" while wearing clown makeup and a rainbow wig (yes, you read that correctly) in a close-up head shot. Hill's abbreviated account of his life goes from his being a kid who was "short and plump" and nicknamed "Stump" to an artist, husband and father. It's clever and touching and ballsy. Through May 7. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858.

"Neo Geo" One goes to the Anya Tish Gallery to see what's new in art on the Eastern front, especially central Europe and Russia. In its latest show, also in its latest digs, Jozsef Bullas from Hungary and Leszek Lewandowski from Poland get their Houston debut, and Robert Varady from Hungary gets his second showing. Fun and high spirits play throughout these works. Varady's large oils are throwbacks to the geometric abstracts of the '80s, which themselves were throwbacks to those rectangles made famous by Mondian in the '20s, but Varady gives his patterns, which he calls fractals, eye-pleasing repetition and smooth juxtapositions of colors. Green and yellow squares bounce pleasantly across XI/2, while tangent parabolas, in a color best described as Big Bird yellow, float gracefully through X. Meanwhile, Bullas, whose work was recently selected along with that of other fellow countrymen to grace the Washington home of the Hungarian ambassador, likes to paint rainbows and soft stripes of colors, with contrasting lines smudged across their surfaces. His soft pastel palette, while decorative, isn't all that inventive or interesting. But it's just the sort of thing to hang in an ambassador's living room -- it won't clash with the drapes. The cleverest pieces, though, are Lewandowski's op-art-electrified constructions. His shallow boxes with rotating discs of colored filters are little mechanical marvels. Their built-in optical illusions convey a child's sense of discovery and playfulness that's straight out of Mr. Wizard. Through May 31. 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299.

"Opening Bloom" For the inaugural exhibition in its spiffy upstairs new gallery space on Montrose, Barbara Davis Gallery has culled 17 signature pieces from its impressive artist roster. There's something for everyone in this big ol' smorgasbord of contemporary art. A cheerful column of Paul Fleming's aquamarine resin tiles runs vertically up the wall for ten feet; next to it is Emilio Perez's whacked-out rat's-nest plate of spaghettilike strands called Misplaced My Brain. Jeremy Kidd's anthropomorphic cityscape Skyopolis, with its computer-enhanced winged buildings, seems to fly off the wall; it's juxtaposed by Robbie Austin's humorous Kite, a stitched-together, happy piece made out of twine, wood and latex. Paul Kittelson's Supper is a fun little boxed triptych of three favorite food groups: broccoli florets, marbled meat and whipped cream or butter. But if you have an empty grand ballroom and a mere $78,000 to spend, then James Surls's massive mahogany-and-steel sculpture, 386 Flower, could comfortably hang from the ceiling and fill the space. Wire up the branches and you'd have a drop-dead-gorgeous chandelier. The photography on view by Brendan Mulcahy and Ann Stautberg is less impressive, even if their numbing titles scream "Art!" Through May 28. 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200.

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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover
Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer