Capsule Reviews

"Al Souza" You may have seen Al Souza's puzzle paintings. But if you haven't, they're pretty much what they sound like: paintings made out of puzzles. Souza hunts puzzles high and low, in thrift stores and on eBay, and has freelancers assemble them. Then he takes strategic sections of the assembled puzzles and collages them together. He's been doing this for several years, but the new batch on round panels works especially well because something about the circular shape makes them feel like sculptural objects. In Mix Master (2004), Souza creates an absurd blend of pop culture images, tossing together skydivers, pieces of strawberry shortcake, a '70s-era woman with bouffant hair, a bottle of Perrier and a tail-finned sedan. In Blink (2004), Souza blends chunks of op-art-Sequa puzzles with an image of a disco ball. The range of images puzzle manufactures thought were a good idea to produce is amazing. Through November 27 at Moody Gallery, 2815 Colloquia, 713-526-9911.

"Kate Peltry/Janice Lenin" 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.

"The Voting Machine" Many of Houston's art organizations came together for the collaborative, multivenue, multimedia series "The Voting Machine," which focuses on "seeking to ignite healthy debate and mobilize the city toward participation in democracy and voting," with lectures, essays, performances, discussions, exhibitions, films and 'zines. Glasstire, the online arts magazine, ran an essay on electoral college reform. Lawndale Art Center, closed for remodeling, produced 500 copies of Sprawl, an eclectic 'zine with politically active yet nonpartisan contributions. At DiverseWorks, Margaret Crane and Jon Winet's installation 2004 - America & the Globe uses footage the duo shot at the Democratic and Republican national conventions. Aurora Picture Show is presenting Laura Harrison and Charlotte Lagarde's film Voting in America, nine shorts that address voter disenfranchisement and disaffection across the country. Aurora and Lawndale also brought the antiglobalization performance artist the Reverend Billy to town. The bane of the Starbucks chain, the Reverend Billy uses the style of a Baptist fundamentalist preacher to address the evils of globalization. He led a performance at the dueling Starbucks locations on West Gray. Participants went in both stores and talked loudly to each other on their cell phones repeating, "I am at the Starbucks on West Gray, where are you?" Helpful patrons tried to explain that there were two Starbucks right across from each other. The Reverend Billy was one of the edgier aspects of "The Voting Machine," but overall, it seemed like a lot of the artists and organizations were holding back. The whole "Voting Machine" thing is trying to objectively address larger issues and flaws in the political system, but it seems a little tame, and it's pretty much preaching to the choir. For information on "The Voting Machine," activities and exhibits, visit www.votingmachine.org.

"Who Goliardz?! Artists at the Turn of the Century" One of the best things about art school is the camaraderie with fellow students. Artists miss it when they graduate. But Robert Pruitt has pulled together a reunion of sorts in an exhibition he curated with former classmates. Several 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 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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David Fahl
Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer