Capsule Reviews

"Arielle Masson" and "Gloria Kisch" Arielle Masson's paintings at New Gallery have a decidedly astral bent to them; their imagery references galaxies, satellites and otherworldly architecture. Masson works large-scale with acrylic and ink on ten-foot-long scroll-like rolls of paper, and the works that are the most organic fare the best. River of Oblivion (2002) is a spectacular display of a starry expanse against a matte black ground. Less successful are the tiered structures and geometric forms of Artificial Intelligence (2002) -- they feel awkward and lack the fluid expressiveness that makes Oblivion so successful. Works by sculptor Gloria Kisch are also on view. New Gallery has a history of mixing sculptors and painters together with really unfortunate results, but this pairing works. Kisch's sculptures, a series of dangling, rounded stainless-steel forms that work well with the vertically oriented paintings, hang from the ceiling. They also make noise -- a low, gonglike ring that's simpatico with the meditative undertones of Masson's work. Through December 31. 2627 Colquitt, 713-520-7053.

"Hyper'real'ism: Fellowship Series VI" Bill Davenport has been making a lot of quirky trompe l'oeil paintings of late, but with Dark Door, he's taken fake to the next level of absurdity. Davenport has made a phenomenal and fantastically ridiculous sculpture. It's a giant medieval-looking wooden door with big metal bolts and a giant iron knocker -- except it's all crafted from insulating foam board and faux-painted with acrylic. The faux bois of the massive "wooden" planks that make up the door have a wonderful cartoonlike quality. The "iron" knocker and bolts have been carved to look like hand-hammered iron. It's jaw-droppingly silly. The door could be keeping out your childhood nightmares or maybe just John Ashcroft. Painting all that fake wood must have taken forever, but according to Davenport, "the tough part was getting the ogre behind the door." Works by Greg Donner, Francesca Fuchs and Tierney Malone are also on view as a part of the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County's Fellowship Series VI. The show is definitely worth a trip. Through January 10 at CACHH's Space 125, 3201 Allen Parkway, ground floor, 713-527-9330.

"James Drake: City of Tells, With Signs Following" There are some big works up at Moody Gallery, where James Drake is showing his working drawings for drawings. Here, he's planning and working out what later will be finished charcoal drawings. The end results are crisp and pristine, but the equally large-scale working drawings are crumpled and worn and have sections of paper masking-taped in to cover up mistakes. And that's what's so great about them: Drake's work is figurative, and the feeling of hard-won problem-solving infuses it, saving it from the ever-present dangers of illustration. City of Tells (2002-2004) is more than 13 feet tall and 30 feet long, and the autobiographically oriented work includes everybody from the artist's wife to writer Cormack McCarthy to artistic influences such as Diego Rivera. It's like a contemporary attempt at history painting -- personal history painting. Through December 31. 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911.

"Notice Forest" Japanese artist Yuken Teruya seems to be on a quest to restore disposable paper products to their former glory. In his art he uses stuff like cast-off fast-food sacks and the cores from toilet-paper rolls. As improbable as it sounds, he conjures up something of the organic glory of their past lives. Teruya acts almost like a spiritual medium as he cuts tiny, delicately beautiful silhouettes of trees from a McDonald's Happy Meal sack whose previous raison d'tre was to provide temporary housing for burgers and fries. The shapes are taken from trees Teruya photographs and captures from daily life. The silhouettes hang down into the bag's interior, and Teruya places the sacks on their sides so you peer into their openings to view the tiny organic world within. Who knew a McDonald's bag could become an intimate environment? Through January 15 at DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 713-223-8346.

"[email protected]: A Quarter Century of New Art in Houston" This retrospective has got mad flow. Sophie Calle presents her fluid recollections of Rembrandt's only maritime painting, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. Robert Longo and Aaron Parazette offer up renditions of curling waves. Nancy Burson gives us a morphed amalgam of the face of the human race. And Dario Robleto serves up some magic potion. All of this flow is fitting, considering how the "Perspectives" series at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston always has been focused on chugging through exhibitions fairly quickly. It is also symbolic of how contemporary art is constantly evolving. And nothing evolves quite like Sam Taylor-Wood's A Little Death. This video begins with what looks like a classic Old Master still life: A dead rabbit hangs on the wall. But this work isn't as still as it seems. Through time-lapse technology, Taylor-Wood speeds up the furry guy's decomposition. As maggots begin to feast, we realize Taylor-Wood has cannibalized the work of her predecessors. This work wasn't in her original show, but, like many of the other works featured in this stunning retrospective, it shows us what the artist has been doing since then. The CAMH is giving us a fresh look at some familiar faces. Through January 9. 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

"Red Fall" "Red Fall" presents the politically charged work of 12 local, national and international artists. These are strong and politically invigorating exhibitions for anyone -- no matter if you were depressed or elated by the elections. One work, S.O.S. -- Urgent Messages to the President from the Streets of the Bronx, a video by Mel Chin, features "84 Bronx residents offering heartfelt thoughts to the President." It sounds straightforward, but it's an incredibly powerful piece. In it, ethnically and politically diverse people offer the president their advice on a range of issues. One by one, each person stares into the camera without speaking, as the text of his or her message runs along the bottom of the screen. The video is accompanied by a thumping, rumbling audio -- the sound of the interviewees' heartbeats, taped by Chin. Other works include a series of photographs by Paul Fusco, Fallen Soldiers -- Iraq, which presents the flag-draped coffins of the dead, and Bringing the War Home (2004), an installation by David Krueger. Through January 15 at the Station, 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900.

"Truth to Power" "Truth to Power" presents moving portraits and biographies of political activists from around the world, and it should inspire anyone thinking about fleeing to Canada to remain at home. Eddie Adams's photographic portraits of activists are paired with biographies written by Kerry Kennedy. They are people such as Kenyan political rights activist Koigi Wa Wamwere, a thoughtful-looking man in a trench coat and hat. Wamwere grew up in poverty in a forest community but excelled in school and was awarded a scholarship to Cornell University. Instead of taking a comfortable job abroad after graduating in 1973, Wamwere returned to Kenya to work for democratic reform. His unrelenting commitment to improving the lives of people in his home country has resulted in his undergoing detention, torture and imprisonment for much of his adult life. Yet he hasn't fled. The Station's message is that we have to stick around and work if we want things to change. Through January 15. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900.

"A Very Special I LOVE YOU BABY Christmas" At Mackey Gallery, the art collective I LOVE YOU BABY is displaying a collection of works with the widely varying degrees of success one would expect from stuff painted by a bunch of people while they're hanging out together. The core members who founded the collaborative four years ago are Rodney Elliott, Paul Kremer and Will Bentsen, but the group has since expanded to include a dozen people. The works are brightly colored and fueled by cartoon and graffiti images. Part of the problem with making any work is knowing when to stop -- that's hard enough for an individual artist, let alone five people. One painting that seemed to be going along okay at one point now has a Tecate can smashed into the middle of it. It doesn't exactly help the painting, but no doubt it was really funny at the time. The show's opening was packed, and part of the appeal of I LOVE YOU BABY is that it reminds people that making art can be fun. Through January 8. 5111 Center, 713-850-8527.

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