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.

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.

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John Devine
Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer