Capsule Reviews

"Amy Blakemore: Recent Pictures" Amy Blakemore has photographed her subjects with a delicate, subtle skill, capturing lovely images that feel like accidents and have a warm, faded nostalgia about them. Blakemore uses a plastic Diana camera, whose low-tech cheapness imparts a hazy aesthetic to her subjects. Diana cameras tend to blur and to vignette, causing the images to go dark and fuzzy around the edges. Blakemore chooses to use the camera for these qualities, but she also uses the darkroom to mediate its effects. The images are square-format, which, in our world of four-by-six Walgreens prints, enhances their vintage associations. Blakemore prints her photographs at 20-by-20 inches, a size that allows them to remain intimate but lets you really explore the images. And a tender empathy permeates Blakemore's portraits of people. In Rob (2004), a model of male-pattern baldness fills the lower part of the frame. We see the top of the man's skull as he looks down, his dark hair retreating across his scalp. His skull is a pale sphere against his orange shirt. A backdrop of worn, scrubby grass fills the rest of the picture plane, creating a simple, satisfying arrangement. Through April 2 at Inman Gallery, 3901 Main, 713-526-7800.

Anya Tish Gallery There is an incredible photograph on view at Anya Tish Gallery: the Margaret Bourke-White image, Dr. Kurt Lisso, Leipzig's city treasurer, and his wife and daughter after taking poison to avoid surrender to U.S. troops, Leipzig, 1945. The photograph stops you dead in your tracks. It blends horror, tragedy, voyeurism. The family lies dead in Dr. Lisso's office. We don't see his face; just the back of his head as he sits slumped over his desk. It, like the rest of the room, is coated with dust from Allied bombings. His daughter is wearing her German Red Cross uniform with her long dark coat drawn around her, lying at an angle on the couch. For an instant you think they all must be sleeping. Then you see the mother. She leans to the side in her armchair, her arm dangling down and her dead eyes open and staring straight up at the camera. A slender line of blood runs out and down the corner of her mouth. Poison isn't like falling asleep. You wonder why they're all seated separately. Why did the wife choose to die sitting opposite her husband's desk like a job applicant? The image is shot from an elevated angle, giving a feeling of otherworldly omniscience. Bourke-White's camera was placed directly in the dead woman's line of sight. Through March 26 at Anya Tish Gallery, 1740 Sunset Boulevard. 713-524-2299.

"Deep Wells and Reflecting Pools" David McGee combed through the Menil's vast holdings, seeking to create a dialogue between selected works. He chose ancient to modern art and objects related to people of African descent -- everything from a fifth-century B.C. Greek vessel to a certificate from a slave auction to a lithograph of Angela Davis. His choices and arrangement of the works become a pointed study in contrasts. Some works "ennoble" their subjects -- which can be patronizing and paternalistic -- and others basely objectify and exploit them. McGee sought to "take the art out" of the exhibition, focusing instead on cultural and historical import rather than esthetics. But as a painter, he's still susceptible to painting's charms. A Negro Overpowering a Buffalo-A Fact Which Occurred in America, 1809, confronts visitors as they enter the Menil Collection. English artist George Dawe painted it in 1810, and it's beautifully and masterfully executed. But Dawe gives us the face of the buffalo, not the face of the man. The animal is more of an individual than he is. Faceless, Dawe's "Negro" has no name. There's also a bust of famed 20th-century Renaissance man Paul Robeson, which McGee placed opposite a carved wooden head of Nat Turner, with bulging glass eyes and rope marks around his neck. Nearby, a formal, stuffy 18th-century portrait hangs on the same wall as a receipt from a slave auction for a man, woman and sorrel horse ($700, $333 and $40 respectively). McGee uses these and other cultural and artistic artifacts to create a complex, disturbing and provocative exploration of race. Through April 17 at the Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.

"Naia del Castillo: Traps and Seductions" Naia del Castillo creates clothing that manifests emotional states and interpersonal relationships, and uses it as props for her staged photographs. In Untitled -- Office Hours (2000), a man in a dark business suit faces to the side, staring straight ahead. Propped against him at an angle is a woman in a beige suit. She isn't just leaning, she's attached. A hood grows out from the cloth of the man's suit and ties under the woman's chin. (Behind every great man...) For Domestic Space -- Bed (2001), a woman lies on a bed covered with creamy white sheets, except the sheets have enveloped her. The bodice of her white sleeveless dress grows into the sheets of the bed. The fabric of the pillow surrounds her head and encircles her face. Is it a manifestation of depressive lethargy or something even darker? Through April 2 at De Santos Gallery, 1724-A Richmond, 713-520-1200.

"Perspectives 145: Bodys Isek Kingelez" Bodys Isek Kingelez has designed a fantastic new world downstairs at the CAMH -- and he wouldn't hesitate to tell you so. In fact, he might add a couple more superlatives to the description. The Congolese artist, who in a video says people think of him as a "small god," makes over-the-top architectural models from paper, cardboard and found objects. Beautifully and crisply executed, they point the way to a fabulous new world, a utopia of the artist's own design. But Kingelez's hyperbole and egomania kind of fit. After all, what would you expect from someone who wants to remake the world? And somebody ought to give him a shot at it, large-scale. His Aeromode is pink, yellow and gray, with curving, arcing forms, and it's way cooler than any air terminal anywhere. Kingelez's designs look like the master-planned city of Brasilia on steroids, cut with art deco and sprinkled with a dash of Dr. Seuss. Through May 1 at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer