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.

"Gordon Terry: Black Holes, Bohemians, Colonials and Boudoirs" Gordon Terry's work is primarily organically abstract. He uses vibrantly colored and superpigmented acrylics to create swirled, marbleized and dotted puddles on sheets of glass. Once they're dry, he peels them up and melds groups of them to gleaming slabs of acrylic in black, white, yellow, green...The results are otherworldly and fantastical. The works, with their gorgeous blends of color, draw you in the same way a bright and shiny object attracts a pea-brained bird. Loooook, pretty! Some look like hard-candy versions of millefiori -- you want to break off pieces and eat them. Others have celestial overtones, depicting what could be stars clustered in a system or vividly hued gaseous surfaces of far-off planets. But this show is something of a conglomeration, with Terry wandering off in a lot of directions -- there are a text piece, several series of abstract works and another series of works in which he's adhering his dots to luridly colored paintings of colonial houses and etchings of opulent interiors. The show's title is effectively catch-all. Terry is creating some interesting and often successful experiments, but showing such a broad inventory of his work may not necessarily serve him well. It emphasizes the range of processes rather than the works themselves. Through May 29 at New Gallery, 2627 Colquitt, 713-520-7053.

"Ricas y Famosas" As F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, "The rich are different from you and me." But if "Ricas y Famosas" is any measure, the rich in Mexico are really freaking different. Photographer Daniela Rossell's portraits of "rich and famous" Mexicans are so shockingly over-the-top that they set off an international scandal. In Mexico, over half the population (53.7 million people) is considered to be living in poverty, but in 1997, a Forbes list of countries with the most billionaires named Mexico as fifth worldwide. Rossell's subjects' homes sport enough gold leaf to guild the Vatican and, as one writer beautifully put it, have "richly detailed theme rooms that would make Elvis weep with envy." Yes, someone chose to be photographed standing on a coffee table in a jeweled leopard-print bikini and flesh-toned fishnet stockings, surrounded by stuffed animals and Asian kitsch. And someone else chose to wear a zebra-print unitard with black sparkly leg warmers while, not coincidentally, crouching on zebra-print sheets, with ceramic zebras and a pile of ostrich eggs decorated with zebras nearby. The subjects treat their photo sessions like some weird amalgam of fashion shoot, soft-core porn, society portraiture and household inventory. These photographs aren't just great because Rossell has access to these people and their homes. She also has a marvelous sense of the theatrical and a knack for dramatic angles and lighting. Rossell takes bizarre environments and pushes them even further. The photographs' depth of field is amazing, with every ornate detail in crisp, voyeuristic focus. The fascinating thing about these works is that they operate on so many different levels. They're all the stronger because Rossell isn't promoting one particular agenda with this glorious cavalcade of kitsch; she lets the images speak for themselves. Through June 13 at the Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, 120 Fine Arts Building, 713-743-9530.

"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