Capsule Reviews

"Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective of Drawings" Born in Turkish Armenia in 1904, Vosdanik Adoian would grow up to be Arshile Gorky, one of America's most important and influential artists, but he would never forget the land of his birth and the village of his difficult childhood. This intimate retrospective at the Menil Collection follows Gorky's progress from his apprenticeship to the masters through his cubist exercises to his breakthrough in the 1940s. Aided by a return to drawing from nature and abetted by the surrealists, Gorky experienced a creative explosion as he filtered the world before him through his imagination and memory -- he drew on his agrarian childhood for the sinuous shape at the heart of the lyrical The Plow and the Song. The vitality and energy of his drawings make their abrupt cessation (Gorky committed suicide at age 44) all the more poignant. As installed in the Menil, the exhibit has been judiciously edited down from the ungainly sprawl and visual overload of the Whitney's version. Don't miss the drawings of his mother, especially the portrait on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago, or the Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia series. Through May 9. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.

"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.

"Home/land: Artists, Immigration, and Identity" If you're the type who bemoans the current trend in contemporary art where novelty is given preference over skill, then you should give contemporary craft a second look. The "Home/land" exhibition at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft showcases several artists with some serious chops, including Vesna Todorovic Miksic and Dinh Q. Lê, two artists whose work reflects their experiences as immigrants in this country. Born in Serbia, Miksic has crafted several garments from road trip-friendly materials, including $1 bills, Yugoslav currency, financial documents and water bottles. The über-practicality of her clothing line is a flagrant metaphor for the difficulties of the long immigrant journey. Exploring similar themes are Lê's photo-tapestries, consisting of two pictures of his homeland woven together by means of traditional Vietnamese grass-mat techniques. In Persistence of Memory #16, he has woven a historical image of the Vietnam War with a movie still about the same subject, thus blurring the line between image and reality. The sheer conceptual and technical complexity involved in the creation of these works proves that contemporary craft is about far more than macramé doilies and macaroni place mats. Through March 28. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848.

"Perspectives 140: Anne Wilson" Chicago artist Anne Wilson breathes a life force into inanimate objects in her video installation, Errant Behaviors, one of three fascinating works on view at the CAM. In the work, a heap of lace attempts to walk, like Buster Keaton playing a drunk. A pin carries a tangle of cloth. Two more pins bend and caress each other. To create the piece, Wilson and her collaborators used stop-action animation to make the sewing materials move, anthropomorphizing them into 23 film sketches reminiscent of old silent slapstick shorts. Another work, A Chronicle of Days, features 100 locks of hair embroidered onto 100 pieces of white damask and arrayed in a grid. And Topologies, (1-4.04) consists of a long table with pieces of black lace arrayed in organic, topological patterns. The pieces here reveal the cheerful play of an interesting mind. Wilson is an artist and a theorist, addressing process, performance, hierarchies and feminist issues. But none of the theoretical, intellectual wordplay prevents these pieces from being comprehensible and enjoyable on a straightforward aesthetic level. Through April 4 at Contemporary Arts Museum, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

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