Capsule Reviews

"The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art" Centaurs, satyrs, sphinxes, the Minotaur, gorgons and the like are part of the ancient Greek panoply of half-human, half-animal creatures depicted in this exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts. The artifacts provide a stroll back through the stories of Greek mythology, and there are elaborate mytho-genealogical explanations for many of the figures. Suffice to say, the Greeks were pretty freaky -- figures like the centaurs and the Minotaur are the product of human-animal couplings. The exhibition includes a variety of objects, the majority of them vases upon which Greek painters depicted human-animal creations and their stories. One of the standout sculptural objects in the show is a chunky little cast-bronze statuette of a satyr (530-520 BC) squatting down on his cloven hooves. It's a wonderfully comic piece that, appropriately, probably decorated a wine vessel (satyrs were known for being lushes). One type of wine vessel on display was used at all-male drinking parties and features two sculptural heads, a satyr on one side and an African on the other. Women were also depicted on these vessels -- but not Greek men, who were, by and large, slave-owning misogynists. Flawed but fascinating, the creative and bizarrely fanciful ancient Greeks continue to have a hold on contemporary Western culture. Viewing the show is akin to rooting through their psychological and cultural dresser drawer -- you may find some weird shit, but it'll all be interesting. Through May 16. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300.

FotoFest: J.P. Morgan Chase Bank In the show "A Personal View," six artists present their personal views of water. Works by two of them serve as a reminder that it's not important which technology you use, but what you do with it. Gina Glover's Luddite pinhole camera photographs have a nice blurry simplicity -- a girl in a pink bathing suit stands in an expanse of calm water, bending over to fish something out. At the other end of the technological spectrum are Julia Hoerner's digitally overlaid and manipulated images of water and text. Unfortunately, she doesn't do anything interesting with all that technology -- they remind you of bad digital art from the early days of the medium. Through April 12. 600 Travis, 713-216-5102.

FotoFest: Reliant Energy Plaza On the upper level at Reliant Energy Plaza, Valdir Cruz's series of waterfall images was taken in his native Brazil, where spectacular waterfalls like these are disappearing because of hydroelectric power dams. The black-and-white images of velvety white-water cascades over dark outcroppings of rocks are stunning. The cascades become beautifully abstract in their blurred fluidity. And the prints are big, which more effectively conveys the whole "grandeur of nature" thing. Also on view is one of the standout shows of FotoFest, Edward Burtynsky's "Shipbreaking," which was shot in Bangladesh and documents the process by which massive, outdated, single-hull tankers are systematically cut apart. The tankers are driven at full speed toward the shore during high tide, where they beach themselves. When the tide goes out, teams of Bangladeshi men move in and, using only hand tools, begin the highly dangerous work of dismantling the massive ships. The images are stark and spectacular and frank -- they conjure a tremendous sense of awe undercut by bleak foreboding. Through April 12. 1000 Main, 713-659-6252.

FotoFest: Vine Street Headquarters This show features a variety of water photographs by nine artists, as well as images and video from the Institute for Flow Sciences in Herrischried, Germany. Their researchers have determined that pollutants change the ways water moves, as evidenced by "drop pictures" that capture the internal movements of water. The images are fascinating in a National Geographic, educational way, but their artistic appeal runs somewhere along the lines of fractals. Another show on view, Steven Benson's "Cost of Power in China: The Three Gorges Dam and the Yangtze River Valley," documents the human and environmental impact of this spectacularly wrongheaded project. The works depict families who will soon be displaced, their homes flooded by the dam. Also set to be buried underwater: "8,000 known archaeological sites, 250,000 acres of China's most fertile farmland and 1,600 factories that have been burying toxic materials in the ground for the past 50 years." It's another glorious communist project, ranking right up there with Stalin's forced collectivization of Russia's farms. Through April 12. 1113 Vine, 713-223-5522.

"Oscar Muñoz: Ambulatorio" Sicardi Gallery's FotoFest-related exhibition is the event's best show, water-themed or otherwise. In the video Re/Trato, Oscar Muñoz paints a self-portrait on concrete with a brush dipped in water. The water makes a dark mark that quickly dries and disappears in the sun. It's a wonderfully futile project. Muñoz gets the left side of his face and one eye drawn in and then moves to draw the right as the left disappears before our very eyes. In an absurdly Sisyphean task, he moves back to the left again, trying to capture an image of himself in a completely ephemeral medium. On and on he travails for 28 minutes of real-time video. In the main gallery, Muñoz presents a huge floor-based photograph, consisting of a grid of 36 aerial views of Cali, Colombia, where the artist lives. The photos are covered by shattered safety glass. You walk over the city like a giant, covering dozens of blocks with a single step, and you can stand in a river with the ball of your foot. The webs of fractured glass completely cover the entire city. It evokes Cali's notorious drug trafficking-related violence. Through April 24. 2246 Richmond, 713-529-1313.

"Weegee the Famous" Weegee the Famous was supposedly nicknamed after the Ouija board for his seemingly supernatural ability to be among the first to arrive at crime scenes. In New York from the '20s through the '40s, Weegee (an Austrian immigrant named Arthur Fellig) made tabloid-style black-and-white photojournalistic images. Because he had an amazing ability to hone in on an event or an urban scene and find a powerful image, his photos are incredible works of art. In one, the police lead away a short, dark-haired woman with heavy eyebrows; she turns to face the camera in a desperate appeal. In another, a lovely teenage girl cries -- for Frank Sinatra. Immigrant children sleep in a pile on a fire escape in the summer heat. A murder victim lies bleeding on the street in his suit and topcoat. Weegee captured the human panorama with an unerring eye. Through April 17 at John Cleary Gallery, 2635 Colquitt, 713-524-5070.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer