Capsule Reviews

"Ant Farm 1968-78" Most Houstonians know the art/architectural collective Ant Farm because of its prominent Texas work, the 1974 Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo with its ten vintage Cadillacs buried nose-first in the ground. But Ant Farm's oeuvre is far broader and more diverse than that one iconic photogenic work. This exhibition presents ten years of smart, riotous, creative and rebellious projects through photos, objects, videos and documentation. Ant Farm's work began in San Francisco in 1968 with Doug Michels and Chip Lord. Embodying the spirit of the times, they stamped OBSOLETE on a copy of an address by the president of the California Council of the American Institute of Architects. Other young architects and artists joined the collective, and Ant Farm went on to design the idealistic, amoeboid House of the Century (1971-73) in Angleton, Texas. They created and toured their 1969 work 50 x 50' Pillow, a giant inflatable and highly interactive installation. They crashed a car through a wall of TVs for 1975's Media Burn, and that same year staged a video re-enactment of the Kennedy assassination. Along the way, Ant Farm created things like time capsules from an old refrigerator and an Oldsmobile station wagon. The show also gives you a big whiff of the period's zeitgeist -- you half expect to find a forgotten roach stuck to this stuff. Through March 5 at the Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston, 120 Fine Arts Building, 713-743-9528.

"Contemporary Erotic Drawing" At this show, T&A abound and jiggle around. Straight, gay, group, solo -- pick your poison, and you can find an artist with it on tap. And that's just the conservative stuff. A lot of the works are meant to shock, and if a few of them don't make you a little uncomfortable -- like Kim McCarty's two watercolors of shirtless figures, who seem more than a little young to be viewed from the eye of Eros -- then you might want to consider counseling. But the show isn't all shock and awe. There's a lot of funny stuff in here, too. In Cristina Lucas' computer animation, Flying Boys, the characters do just what the title suggests: They fly about, albeit by means of a quite unconventional method of propulsion. They're fully clothed, you see, except for their penises, which whirl around like helicopter blades. This show is also the perfect venue for the work of local artist Scott Burns, who seems to have turned over his whole oeuvre to kinkiness. Here he has four pieces, all of which exhibit a lovely cleanliness of line, and all of which depict a devilish feminine figure tempting a fat Buddha. And, of course, no erotic art show would be complete without the work of R. Crumb. Crumb really is the grandfather of the contemporary scene. Three of his works are on display here, one of which shows a guy staring at his engorged penis. At the top is a caption that might be the best way to describe the entire show: "unfucking real." Check it out. Though March 5 at DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 713-223-8346.

"Erewhon" Have you ever walked into an empty building and felt that it was haunted -- not that it was full of horror-movie ghosts, but that it was somehow stained by the past? It could have been residue from previous occupants. Or maybe it's that buildings have their own personas, created by builders and shaped by occupants and the forces of time. Sisters Jane and Louise Wilson have a fixation with empty spaces, and in their exhibition at Blaffer Gallery, they explore them through photographs and video. For the installation Erewhon (2004), the sisters went to New Zealand and filmed an abandoned mine and a defunct sanatorium/former shell-shock hospital, along with the country's landscape and some staged scenes. The resulting installation uses the Blaffer's problematic two-story central space better than any show in a long time. The room is completely dark with two tall assemblages made from giant video screens and mirrors. If you walk into the center of the room, you're surrounded by images of multiple scenes on different planes and at different angles. Erewhon's shots from the abandoned mine and the sanatorium are successful, but less so is a staged series of scenes inspired by vintage photographs of girls' exercise classes from the 1910s and '20s. They just don't have the evocative power of the more documentary images. They aren't weird enough; they're just distracting. The gym is obviously contemporary, but it doesn't feel like it's supposed to be. The Erewhon video installation is fascinating; its scenes highly evocative. The Wilsons' work is far more effective when they let places speak for themselves. Through March 5 at The Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, 120 Fine Arts Building, 713-743-9528.

"Jenny Perlin: Sight Reading" Tucked away in the upstairs gallery at the Glassell School is the stuff of a piano student's nightmares: sight reading. In a video installation by Jenny Perlin, organized by Core Program critical studies resident Claire Barliant, three pianists sight-read Robert Schumann's piano concerto in A minor. Presented on three different screens, each pianist begins at the same time, but they quickly become out of sync. When one makes a mistake, the pianist's video screen goes blank for five seconds. Rather than hoping no one will notice their errors, Perlin calls pointed attention to them. As the performances progress, the pianists slowly end, leaving one woman doggedly struggling through to the finish. The slightly sadistic project makes the viewer uneasy as it explores the anxiety of performing and playing the unknown. It also highlights the variables individual performers introduce when they take on a composer's work. Through March 15 at the Project Room, Glassell School of Art, 5101 Montrose, 713-639-7500.

"New Cartoon!" In Passionate Plush, one of the best pieces of Jesus art in recent memory, Jason Villegas has sculpted a life-size crucified Christ out of stuffed felt. But it's only a small part of the raucous irreverence of "New Cartoon!" at Deborah Colton Gallery. Cory Arcangel hacked an old Hogan's Alley Nintendo game to create I Shot Andy Warhol, a video game in which viewers can shoot Andy Warhol just like Valerie Solanis once did. Meanwhile, Andy Coolquitt has filled the gallery with polychromed wooden cutouts of pan-animal copulation -- raccoons, squirrels, poodles, roosters...oh my. Ai Kijima has taken images from new and vintage kid's fabrics and quilted them into surreal collages in which cutesy cottages vie with Star Wars figures, Strawberry Shortcake and Winnie the Pooh. Kijima's quilts are extremely well-crafted and rivetingly weird. Through March 12 at Deborah Colton Gallery, 2500 Summer Street, Third Floor, 713-864-2364.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer
Keith Plocek
Contact: Keith Plocek