Capsule Reviews

"African Art Now: Masterpieces from the Jean Pigozzi Collection" This show is filled with fresh, smart and gorgeous work. But like every individual collection, it represents one person's taste and point of view. Jean Pigozzi began collecting contemporary African art 15 years ago; his private collection, the Contemporary African Art Collection, usually resides in Geneva. "African Art Now" includes the marvelously hyperreal and intoxicatingly colored paintings of the Democratic Republic of Congo's Chri Samba, one of the world's best-known and most in-demand African artists; Beninese artist Romuald Hazoum's masks and installations made out of found plastic gas canisters; Philip Kwame Apagya's photos of Ghanaians standing in front of backdrops; and the fanatically detailed futuristic machines of Abu Bakarr Mansaray, from war-torn Sierra Leone. It's an amazing show in many ways, but not everyone is thrilled by it. Otabenga Jones & Associates protested in front of the MFAH on the exhibition's opening night. Collective members Robert Pruitt and Jamal Cyrus held signs that said, "You cannot contain our blackness in your white box, give me concepts or give me death" and, pointedly to Dubya, et al., "Africa is not a country." Speaking for the collective, Pruitt says they feel the exhibition "reinforces certain ideas about African art" because of Pigozzi's focus on "what we would call naive or folk art here." It is a focus that tries to avoid work by artists with academic art training -- and apparently women, with only two in the show. Pruitt makes an important point. Why is the museum allowing one Swiss guy's taste to become the definition of African art? Should this show be titled "African Art Now?" or "A Random Assortment of 33 Artists from 15 Countries in a Very Large Misunderstood Continent"? Through May 8 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 5601 Main, 713-639-7300.

"Ellsworth Kelly: Tablet" Most artists have little scraps of drawings and doodles lying around their studios, and they usually get tossed. But Ellsworth Kelly grouped them, mounted them and framed them to create Tablet (1948-1973), which is being exhibited alongside some of Kelly's paintings and sculptures in "Ellsworth Kelly: Tablet," on view at the Menil Collection. Tablet is not just a practical solution for preserving and presenting an artist's studio ephemera; it is a fascinating record of one man's artistic thought process and the way he views the world, presented through the little detritus of life. The project started in 1973 when Kelly, having just moved into a new studio, started unpacking all the bits and pieces he'd boxed up at the old place. Sifting through all those little doodles, he saw images that had later found their way into his abstract paintings, his shaped, monochromatic canvases and his sculptures. In the Menil show, chief curator Matthew Drutt's sparing selection of Kelly's paintings and sculptures provides a context for the sketches and ephemera. Tablet 89 focuses on arcing and angled lines. Kelly has cut a color picture from a magazine; it depicts a dark V-neck sweater with white bands around the neck, arms and hem. The artist excised the bands, drawing them as disembodied forms on a sheet of lined notebook paper. Green Angle (1970), a 20-foot-long, shaped canvas on the wall in the same gallery, could be the V-neck drawing inverted. It's intriguing that this painting, with its huge scale and dynamic presence, may have had its origins in a dorky 1960s pullover. Through May 8. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.

"Interactive Random Chromatic Experience" Carlos Cruz-Diez, the grand master of optically kinetic art, is presenting his paintings/constructions, the results of decades of optical experiments. He utilizes the optical flicker that happens when slender parallel lines of color radiate against each other, separating sections of lines with slender strips of tinted Plexiglas or thin painted strips of aluminum that stick out from the surface at a right angle. As the viewer moves, the painting shifts, causing the color to further flicker and creating a staccato effect on the eyes. Physichromie No. 2378 (1998) is almost 18 feet long, and as you walk past it, geometric forms appear and disappear. The painting moves from yellows and pinks to greens and blues. Another work, Physichromie No. 2364 (1996), appears yellow and black when seen from the left, and orange and black from the right. These paintings reach out and grab your retinas, whether you want them to or not. There's no way they can be experienced passively. And they can't recede into the background. You just want to wrap yourself in the works, surrounding yourself with optical sensation. Cruz-Diez is also making art digitally, a medium many artists who are decades younger find daunting. He's designed a program that "invites visitors to delve into his chromatic research and vibrational discoveries." You can select from a library of forms, colors and effects to create your own work. A time limit had to be added to the program at a previous exhibition -- people became so engrossed in constructing images that they refused to share the computer. Through April 30 at Sicardi Gallery, 2246 Richmond, 713-529-1313.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer