"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 BC 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 aesthetics. 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. 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.
"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.
"Thomas Deyle" On panels of frosted Plexiglas, Thomas Deyle rolls 600 impossibly thin layers of the same color. The acrylic is highly diluted so the pigment slowly accumulates. At the end of the hundreds of coats, the center has a mass of dense, rich color that dissolves into edges that seem to have only fine flecks of pigment. The effect is one of free-floating color set against the pristine white of the gallery walls. The Plexiglas supports disappear, and the viewer is left with these mists of cadmium orange, pale yellow, lush aqua... Scarabaeus No. 5 (2002) is the largest of the series. A mass of deep cobalt floats on a six-foot square of Plexiglas. It feels otherworldly, like a digital special effect inserted into the real world. There's no definite edge to it, but your eye seems to continuously search for one, creating an optical buzz that charges the color. The work isn't about monochromatic color on a surface, it's about the color itself and its inherent richness and sensuality. Deyle has embarked upon a labor-intensive quest for pure color. Through April 24 at Gallery Sonja Roesch, 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5425.