Capsule Reviews

"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.

"Ricas y Famosas" As F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, "The rich are different from you and me." But if "Ricas y Famosas" s 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 gild 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.

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