Capsule Reviews

"Jess-Rafael Soto" Jess-Rafael Soto's work isn't technically kinetic, but it can certainly make the viewer kinetic. It gets you circling, crouching, standing, doing a box step and bobbing your head up and down like one of the those dashboard dogs. On your retinas is where the real work happens -- that's where Soto's art flickers and moves. The octogenarian Venezuelan artist has been making art for 60-odd years. Despite recent shows at the MFAH and Sicardi, Soto has been ridiculously under-represented in U.S. exhibitions and art history texts. But things are slowly changing. It's high time, and his phenomenal new solo exhibition at Sicardi Gallery helps illustrates why. With works ranging from 1955 to 2000, the show was curated from the artist's personal collection. Soto's art spans materials as well as decades -- wire, wood, Plexiglas, metal, paint and filament are all drafted into service -- and the works on display are a record of his fascination with optical phenomena. Cube de Madrid (1981), for example, is a clear block of solid Plexiglas with opaque black squares in the center of each of its six sides. The bottom one is underlaid with slender black-and-white stripes. The work sounds straightforward enough, but as with most of Soto's art, it's difficult to convey what happens when you view it. As you move around the piece, the squares seem to cover the corners and then appear to float in layers on various planes. As you peer in from the top, the parallel lines of the bottom seem the fill the cube. Crouching down and looking at it directly from the side, you see the squares exactly overlap, and a Malevich-esque black square seems to levitate in transparent liquid. What initially seems like a simple idea has fascinating and myriad results. There is something refreshing and riveting about the low-tech creativity of Soto. Through January 22. 2246 Richmond, 713-529-1313.

"Leonardo Drew" San Antonio's Finesilver Gallery is planning to open a Houston branch, and it already has a show on view here. The gallery is temporarily camping in the New World Museum's hip space to present an exhibition of works by Leonardo Drew. Drew's work employs materials that seem to be on the verge of decay and deterioration. Rust and paper are frequent components. In some of the most interesting pieces, Drew has "cast" found objects in paper by molding sheets of it around their three-dimensional forms. As you walk in the gallery, Number 87 (2004) explodes out from the entry wall. It looks like a spiky profusion of construction materials, but the hollow forms are completely fabricated from thin, fragile sheets of paper. These aren't crisp and pristine origami-esque objects; instead, they're worn-looking and slightly tattered. Number 89 (2004) is a series of cast bricks displayed in a grid on Plexiglas shelves. A Plexiglas box surrounds them. Grids crop up frequently in Drew's work as he seemingly seeks to give order to the disorderly. He chose to cast eroded and broken fragments of bricks for the piece; the lightness of the paper is wonderfully at odds with the subject, making the concept of "brick and mortar" suddenly seem ephemeral. Also visible is the text imprinted on the bricks, which is reminiscent of the way grave rubbings try to capture and preserve worn words from stone. And the display case itself is wonderfully consistent with Drew's aesthetic. You can see the smeared silicone adhesive that holds the shelves together. It's just messy enough to keep the work from pristine minimalism. Through January 30 at 5230 Center Street, 210-354-3333.

"Perspectives 144: Amalgama" The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston brings us an exhibition of eight works by emerging collaborators. The collaborative Otabenga Jones & Associates' past projects have explored African-American political and popular culture. For the CAMH show, the artists bought an old sedan, painted it to look like a cop car and then flipped it. It rests on its roof, and audio from the Watts riots -- news reports and police radios -- plays from speakers inside the car. Titled We Did It for Love, the piece plays into a kind of political nostalgia. Meanwhile, besides collaborating with Bernard Brunon of "THAT'S PAINTING Productions" for the CAMH show, Laura Lark worked with Portland artist Harrell Fletcher, who runs the Web site, which lists assignments that people can complete and present. For one assignment, she recruited a cast of fellow local art-scene characters and their children to create a scene from her life story. There's a great impromptu energy to the video. Lark takes some really painful things -- large and small childhood traumas and adult ordeals -- and makes them darkly comic. And Paul Druecke's collaboration is with his subjects. He sets up a camera and asks them to photograph themselves upon waking. The results are an intimate series of bleary-eyed, bed-headed faces. These collaborators and their inclusive vision are a breath of fresh air. Through January 23. 5216 Montrose, 713-824-8250.

"Sandi Seltzer Bryant 2005: New Paintings" Judging from Sandi Seltzer Bryant's new show at McMurtrey Gallery, her work has undergone some interesting changes. The bold lines and unmitigated colors of the past are gone, having been replaced by blended and intermingled marks and well-scrubbed areas of color. While some of the works occasionally wander a little too far off into the decorative, the danger is not nearly so pressing as in previous exhibitions. The sections of color and the linear strokes have a pleasing, well-worn patina. They remind you of strong colors slightly dulled and faded by the effects of sunlight. Bryant has traded in the bright, cheery ease of her earlier abstraction for something that feels a little harder-won. The results are more rewarding for the viewer as well. Through February 5. 3508 Lake Street, 713-523-8238.

"Woods" Ever thought to yourself that there just aren't enough paintings of three-toed sloths these days? Well, Jason Villegas has remedied that. His painting of said sloth is included in "Woods," a group show at Negative Space that rotates around the idea of, well, wood, with five different artists' takes on the topic. In Vestigial Sloth Casting Spells, Villegas's sloth poses amid tree stumps in a painting surrounded by a comically sculpted "plush felt faux wood frame." Villegas has great titles: Lumberjacked Whilst Cutting Coasters for Social Entertaining is a comic depiction of a severed arm, a branch and wood-grain coasters. Villegas explores the same idea in a goofy sculpture made from cardboard, tape and felt depicting a tree stump, saw, branch and severed arm. Other standouts in the show include Scott Burns's drawing of wood robots and his lovingly rendered image of a tree embedded with axes. Teresa O'Connor has presented a campy, Wild West, poker- and beer-themed vignette with wooden bottle silhouettes painted to look like Lone Star and Wild Irish Rose. And Joe Ives maintains his knack for the absurd with a ridiculously oversize chair made from cardboard boxes and unwieldy "portable" plywood furniture with accompanying performance videos. Through February 19. 68 Yale, 713-869-1603.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer