Capsule Reviews

Ayanah Moor: Word! It seems like anything can be deemed a work of art once it's been placed on a gallery wall, and Ayanah Moor's work on view at Lawndale is a classic example of this phenomenon. For the A to Z Like Me series, Moor silk-screened definitions of African-American slang on black paper and provided her own sample sentences for the use of these terms. No doubt her work makes a serious comment upon how African-Americans have transformed and recontextualized American English, but the exhibition makes us wonder why it wouldn't have worked just as well in book form. Perhaps the Pittsburgh-based artist felt her message would be better received in a hushed gallery than on a messy coffee table. Interestingly enough, she also silk-screened an image of her own face behind words that, she says, apply to her, which allows us to assume that she's (in alphabetical order) a dyke who's always fronting like she's hot shit, perhaps because she wears her hair natural, just like a real sister should. Uh-huh, yo. Through March 27 at Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main, 713-528-5858.

Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey: Green Brick Greenback Ackroyd and Harvey's works are a form of photographic print that uses chlorophyll and grass instead of photographic chemicals and paper. Before the opening of Green Brick, Greenback at Rice University Art Gallery, they turned the gallery into a darkroom, projecting photographic negatives onto grass hanging on the wall. The result is two large, site-specific images, which the artists chose because of their relationship to the exhibit space and its environment. One is a room-sized photo of bricks outside Rice University's Sewall Hall, and the other is a smaller enlargement of the back of a folded dollar bill. Ackroyd and Harvey say that the notion of using the dollar bill occurred as they were driving into town from the south on I-45, viewing and smelling the Ship Channel refineries. It seems like they could have tried a little harder to find subject matter relating to Houston. Their medium itself evidences more imagination than that. Through April 4. 6100 Main Street (use entrance no. 1 or 2), 713-348-6069.

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.

Jim Richard: Recent Work At Inman Gallery Jim Richard is pursuing a program of crackpot interior design. Richard scavenges room interiors from magazines and creates collages, pasting in incongruous elements like out-of-scale light fixtures and clunky modern objets d'art. He makes paintings of these redecorated rooms, rendering them with campy, self-consciously cartoonlike flair. All the works have a fantastic, over-the-top sense of color and pattern. Some focus on the forms and patterns of the rooms and use them for their formal, abstract qualities. Others are more fixated on the lush, crowded and oddly furnished interiors. You sense Richard's vicarious thrill in redecorating these found, often vintage, environments. But there's also an uneasy feeling -- equal parts claustrophobia and Twilight Zone -- that runs through the otherwise visually engaging images. You want to look at Richard's paintings and collages, but you sure as hell don't want to live in them. Through February 28. 214 Travis Street, 713-222-0844.

Matthew Ritchie: Proposition Player Matthew Ritchie has built his body of work around his own constructed cosmology. In 1995, he made a list of everything that interests him -- solitude, color, DNA, sex -- and created a grid of characters. The results: a system for making art about everything. But if Ritchie really wants to make art about everything, he needs a container to hold it. His installation at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston has too much stuff going on: drawings on the floor and gallery walls, paintings, a tablelike sculpture, an interactive gaming table, projections and 3-D transparencies, a room of delicate drawings and a diagram of Ritchie's map of characters transformed into a card deck. Most of the works are satisfying in and of themselves, but overall, the exhibition seems torn between conventionally presenting paintings and drawings and fully embracing the potential of installation. Through March 14. 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

The Passionate Adventure of the Real: Collage, Assemblage and the Object in 20th Century Art Seriously mundane objects (discarded toys, wrecked cars, worn shoes, packing crates, burlap, seashells, wallpaper, animal skins, dolls, dirt, twigs, rusty nails, bottle caps, porcelain birds, pictures of rap stars) sometimes become sublime in the hands of the artists featured in The Passionate Adventure of the Real. And sometimes they remain mundane. Machine parts are turned into flowers; a plaster Venus de Milo is adorned with thorns and a feathered serpent; smashed auto body parts are twisted into precarious balance. Wallpaper and upholstery fabric tell the stories of an Argentinean prostitute. Memorials to children lost in the holocaust and immigrants suffocated in a boxcar stand next to one another. Epoxy flies are embedded in a large abstract painting. And motors, pulleys, belts and tubing are combined into elaborate machines which seem to do nothing at all. As an assembly of assemblages, the show is more like a pile of jigsaw pieces than a connected puzzle. Featured are works by artists in Italy, Paraguay, Hungary, Argentina, New York and even Houston. Through March 7. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300.

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David Fahl
Kelly Klaasmeyer
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Keith Plocek
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