Capsule Reviews

"Fade In: New Film and Video" This Contemporary Arts Museum exhibition, curated by Paola Morsiani, presents a group of works by eight international artists. American Luis Gispert's installation, Foxy Xerox (2003), is a witty take on the appropriation of hip-hop culture by white America. On one wall, a blond girl in a pale blue terry sweat suit and lots of gold jewelry dances to a hip-hop track. On the opposite wall, we see the same girl in a pink sweat suit, wearing a black wig and blackface, which is, of course, jolting for anybody who didn't grow up in the 1930s. It has obviously unsettling associations, but here Gispert is using it to effectively parody white emulation of black culture. The girl's makeup is unconvincingly applied and smeared all over her clothes as she tries really, really hard and really, really unsuccessfully to be something she isn't. A couple of the pieces could be vastly improved by some editing and self-restraint on the part of the artists. Israeli artist Doron Solomons has a lot of ideas going on in his video Father (2002). There's enough material here for more than one video: computer animation, home videos, news segments, car safety tests and videotaped suicide notes. The artist is commenting on being a father and living in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he's throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. Artists have been using film and video since the early 1960s, but at a recent panel on new media in Houston, a local arts professional questioned its worth as an art form. It's a debate most people consider long over. Film and video are tools just like any other. Through July 4. 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

"Olafur Eliasson: Photographs" Olafur Eliasson presents a world with a quietly powerful, contemplative and fascinating beauty. For his exhibition at the Menil Collection, he's taken photos of Iceland and grouped them in grids, creating series of images and recording his movements though landscape -- over a trail, down a river. He creates what are essentially portraits of the natural and man-made phenomena he explores: chunks of intensely blue glacial ice, boulders, broken stones, bridges. Portraits of rocks may sound boring as hell, but his carefully examined presentation makes them fascinating. Nature's incredible variety is a patently obvious concept, but Eliasson explores it without heavy-handedness. You go through the same process of discovery he did in taking his pictures, editing them and grouping them together. The path series (1999), a grid of 24 photographs, depicts lush green grass worn away to reveal rich, dark earth, footsteps embossed in a line in the snow, and a trail burnished into a desolate stony field. It's a record of different landscapes and a document of the artist's walk through his environment. And what a strange environment it is. In The moss valley series (2002), a grid of 16 large photographs records sections of rocky, moss-covered earth. The undulating carpets of dull green look like NASA shots from an alien landscape. They're beautiful and just a little bit creepy. The landscape series (1997) has some lovely images, but the scenic shots aren't as compelling because they're not as specific as his other investigations. Eliasson's work is at its best when parameters are more closely defined. Through September 5. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.

"Perspectives 141: Aaron Parazette" Aaron Parazette has described surfing as antithetical to making art -- that is, doubt-free. He quotes surfer Mark Foo, who has said, "Surfers are happy people because they always know what they want." Art, on the other hand, is pretty much fraught with indecision and self-doubt -- what to paint, how to paint it. For this exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Parazette has turned to surfing to figure out what to paint. The sport has a cultlike appeal; there's a whole lifestyle that goes along with it, and as a result it even has its own slanguage -- in which Parazette is fluent. He has taken surf terms and built a body of work around them. Words like "kook" (a rank beginner) and "green room"(the tubelike interior of a breaking wave) become the imagery of paintings. Parazette's use of letters in lieu of more abstract forms gives the shapes of his works a hook. He's chosen words from a surfing vocabulary because they have a particular relevance and nostalgia for him, but really he could take expressions from Ping-Pong or terms from accounting. The words themselves are ultimately irrelevant. The important thing is their letters, which give Parazette a wonderful excuse to play with color and form. Through June 20. 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

"Real Time" The white sheets cascading in Kelli Connell's Clothesline almost tickle your face. Hung by two women staring at each other, they dangle in the breeze in front of a wooden fence. One of them, wearing a white shirt, gazes forward at her lover, who hangs a white bra on the line. It's a delicate moment between two women -- two women who happen to be the same woman. The photo is digitally spliced together from two different shots of one female model. Connell has teamed up with David Hilliard and Joe Schmelzer for DiverseWorks' "Real Time," an exhibition of photographs addressing issues of gay identity and personal relationships. Hilliard's work also deals with gay identity, but its gayness isn't as striking as that of two women staring at each other. The models in his works are standing alone, solitary in their studliness. Rounding out the exhibition are a few of Schmelzer's works. Noah in Tub, New York, NY is an excellent photo of a man in a bathtub, and it has a twist. Shot from above, it shows the photographer's bare foot standing on a towel over the toilet seat. But you can also see another socked foot on the floor, no doubt belonging to someone else who's admiring the beauty of the lover in the bath. There's a threesome going on here, ladies and gentlemen. The whole "Real Time" exhibition is inviting. Curator Patrick Reynolds managed to pack some big works in a small space without overdoing it. Clean and crisp, they relate poignant narratives of gay love. Through June 26. 1117 East Freeway, 713-223-8346.

"Robbie Austin: Ripple Effect" Robbie Austin's plywood sculptures look like they were crafted by an extremely earnest but terrifically unskilled hobbyist. They're purposely wonky objects -- a big skewed cube balances on a blocky foot, its plywood surface randomly patched with swatches of more plywood. But the surfaces are the best part. Austin sands the crap out them, blunting edges and corners. It's a goofy, doomed-to-fail, silk-purse-out-of-a-sow's-ear strategy; with elbow grease and acres of sandpaper Austin tries to make raw, striated plywood elegant and clunky patches unobtrusive. The smoothed surfaces are coated with a matte sealer that makes you want to pet them. But the flocking Austin uses on other works is even more tactile. Baby Blue is a chalky white, branchlike sculpture that grows directly out of the wall. One slender arm reaches to the side, coated in pale blue flocking like the velvet of a deer antler. For Momma, a stumpy form protrudes from the wall, and anthropomorphic twig arms reach up. The whole thing is lushly coated with deep purple flocking. Austin deals in touchable surfaces and appealingly awkward forms. Through June 19 at Gallery Sonja Roesch, 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424.

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