Capsule Reviews

Jessica Stockholder There's something about Jessica Stockholder's work that makes it instantly recognizable. With bright, broad strokes slathered on large found objects, her work contains elements of both painting and sculpture. She mixes domestic and construction items at will, creating combinations that are visually and intellectually appealing. In her latest installation, "Sam Ran Over Sand or Sand Ran Over Sam," at Rice Gallery, three large Styrofoam blocks, painted orange, green and purple, float in the air. An incomplete wall, decked out partially in drywall, has random objects, such as plush armchairs and wooden desks, sticking out of it. Broad strokes of paint abound. The whole thing is signature Stockholder. And that's the problem. Stockholder has been doing this kind of work since her days at Yale in the '80s. This is evident in her retrospective now at Blaffer Gallery, "Kissing the Wall: Works, 1988-2003," which showcases her smaller, more marketable pieces. A lamp sits in a paint-covered bathtub in front of a couch flipped on its side. A car door is jammed inside a wooden frame with a drab cloth draped over it. A stack of red buckets stands in weird contrast to a bright pink Sheetrock trapezoid. It's all fascinating work, but one wonders when more of the same is no longer enough. Still, if you've never seen a Stockholder show, don't miss either of these. "Sam Ran Over Sand or Sand Ran Over Sam" runs through October 31 at Rice University Art Gallery, 6100 Main, 713-348-6069; "Kissing the Wall: Works, 1988-2003" runs through November 21 at Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, 120 Fine Arts Building, 713-743-9530.

"Kate Petley/Janaki Lennie" Houston has a new house gallery. Rudolf Projects/ArtScan Gallery, formerly of Vine Street Studios, has reopened in a new Montrose location, the bottom floor of a 1930s brick fourplex on Richmond. This new domestically scaled space is a sharp contrast from their previous warehouse location. The inaugural show features Janaki Lennie and Kate Petley. Lennie creates moody paintings of Houston's polluted, twilight skies. Their colors have an unsettling beauty; fragments of sallow, leafy branches peek into the greenish firmament. The small works show well in the intimate environs of the former living room. Petley's resin works hang in a crisp, white-walled exhibition space that was the dining room. Her paintings are poured panels of lushly colored, translucent resin. While the colors are seductive, the works could be pushed further. Her "mobile" of organic resin shapes is going in a more interesting direction, but it still feels a little safe. Through November 5. 1836 Richmond, 713-256-6386.

"Mid-Century Modern Revisited: Design 1943-1953" An enigmatic, molded plywood object hangs on the wall at Brazos Projects for the space's new exhibition. The object is a leg splint, and it was designed by Charles and Ray Eames and marketed to the U.S. Navy during WWII as an alternative to metal splints. Through designing the splint, the Eameses developed a technique to mold plywood and mass-produce it. They would later use the process to design furniture such as the 1946 molded plywood screen, which features beautifully undulating segments of wood held together by unobtrusive fabric hinges. In the show, the screen serves as a backdrop for other spectacular objects, like Eero Saarinen's "Womb Chair," which still looks fantastically contemporary almost 60 years later. The chair is grouped with George Nelson's glowing, podlike "Bubble Lamp" and the warm wood of an early version of Isamu Noguchi's iconic coffee table. While "Mid-Century Modern" has become a widely used and misused appellation, this little jewel of a show brings the term back to its origins with choice and beautiful objects from the early years. Through November 28. 2425 Bissonnet, 713-523-0701.

"Truth Matters: The Meaning of Objects" This exhibition displays photos that subvert the still-life genre. Works by two of the photographers stand out. Celia Shapiro re-creates prisoners' last meals, and Laura Letinsky creates scenes of breakfast-table aftermath. In both artists' work, food -- that staple of the still-life genre -- becomes a vehicle for exploring life and death. In a photo by Shapiro, a jar of dill pickles sits on a white plate with a napkin -- it was the last meal of Stacy Lawton. While awaiting execution, Lawton wrote to a friend, "I grew up loving pickles and I'll go loving them." He had a tenth-grade education and was convicted of shooting a man while trying to steal his truck. Up until his execution, he denied being the triggerman. These photographs achieve a bizarre, biblical, "last supper" symbolism. That the state is delivering last meals and delivering death is driven home in a disturbingly mundane way. Laura Letinsky is using images of food to decidedly different effect. Her work isn't really about food; it's about sensuality. Letinsky is known for her photographs of couples being intimate -- in every sense of the word -- but the breakfast-table photos are equally intimate. Images from her "Morning and Melancholia" series hauntingly present the breakfast aftermath in soft, warm light. You see the marks of teeth on the remaining flesh of a pear; you know the cherry pits in the little stack have been in someone's mouth. The sensuality is palpable. Letinsky manages to put her finger on an emotional state that's indefinable but recognizable. These two artists reinvigorate the often hidebound genre of the still life. Through October 31 at the Houston Center for Photography, 1441 W. Alabama, 713-529-4755.

"Who Goliardz?! Artists at the Turn of the Century" This show's standout works potently blend history, politics, pop culture and the personal. Jamal Cyrus's ironic Black August Gift Basket is like an activist FTD bouquet commemorating the death of Black Panther George Jackson. A black basket contains two bricks, covered with decorative, crocheted cozies in the red, black and green stripes of the pan-African flag. The bricks are nestled in a pile of broken safety glass. In Robert Pruitt's Turning the Nile into Blood Turning Water into Wine Southbunk, Texas 59 Bloods, a torrent of blood-red fabric cascades from a baroque cornucopia. It starts symbolically with a red bandanna and moves into widths of other fabrics, including one decorated with traditional African cowry shells. Meanwhile, Ebony McFarland's Black Wall Street is a giant collage compiled of ephemera from all the artists in the exhibition. Looking at the drawings, photos, objects, newspaper clippings and saved snippets of paper is like digging through somebody's desk drawers, and it's fascinating. Through November 7 at the University Museum at Texas Southern University, 3100 Cleburne, 713-313-7120.

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