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.

"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.

"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 completed 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.

"TRESPASSING: Houses x Artists" For this exhibition, nine artists working in conjunction with architects and exhibition organizers Alan Koch and Linda Taalman of TK Architecture present drawings and models for houses. Chris Burden's "Small Skyscraper" grew out of a loophole in the Los Angeles County building code that allows structures under 400 square feet and less than 35 feet high to be built without a permit. It features four claustrophobic floors that are 100 square feet each. Other projects explore prefab designs: Julian Opie's plan uses U-shaped pre-cast concrete units, while T. Kelly Mason's work puts kitchens and baths into pre-engineered Butler Buildings. Artist Renee Petropoulos offers one of the most provocative ideas of the show, using the vernacular of the gas station mini-mart as a model for residential architecture. If you think about it, her design makes sense. Where else do you get food and coffee and go pee when you're out of your own domestic sphere? But as is the case with Barbara Bloom's convoluted "Mood Ring Home" -- which is basically a lot of different takes on a not-very-interesting concept involving IKEA furniture, a board game and a computer game -- much of the show needs editing. Many works are visually sterile architectural translations rather than real collaborations between the artists and architects. Through March 14. Blaffer Gallery, 120 Fine Arts Building, University of Houston, 713-743-9530.

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David Fahl
Kelly Klaasmeyer
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Keith Plocek
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