Capsule Reviews

"Angelina Nasso" Angelina Nasso's paintings seem to possess a pretty kind of magic. Done in oils as transparent as watercolors, they're abstract. But their surfaces seem familiar -- a single painting, Across the Grass, echoes Monet's waterlilies, van Gogh's stars and Cy Twombly's massive webs. Layered colors, deliberately blurred, create a world populated by bright dots, some distinct and some fading into their environments. Depending on the paintings' color and density, their backgrounds suggest water, clouds, forests or cities; the artist speaks of "celestial motion, primordial matter...marine life...evolution...mindscape and dreamscape." The colored dots conjure stars shining through a night sky, flowers blooming in a dense forest, humans trying to catch a bit of joy in unfriendly cities. Through October 9 at McClain Gallery, 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988.

"Ginnungagap" The icy new paintings at Inman Gallery are some of the best yet by former Core Fellow and Artadia grant recipient Sigrid Sandström. While many of her earlier works were executed on panels of Masonite, this latest crop of paintings explores transparent new surfaces such as Mylar and some superthin Plexiglaslike stuff called polycarbonite. The effect on her work is amazing. Where the paint in some of Sandström's earlier images had a tendency to become dense and muddied, detracting from the theatrical grandeur it seemed to be shooting for, these new works have a cool, crystalline translucence. Sandström's landscapes feature abstracted, flattened forms. Mountains and valleys are rendered in clean whites and frosty blues in shades of cobalt and ultramarine. They feel glacial and brittle, as if they were painted on a thin sheet of ice that could shatter at the slightest pressure. But the change in Sandström's work isn't entirely due to new materials -- it's also in the way she's painting. Even in the few pieces where she's using gouache on white paper, her clear colors have the same purity and crispness as the works incorporating transparent surfaces. Most of the scenes Sandström is exploring in her series are remarkably similar, although she paints them in various sizes and on different surfaces. You'd think they'd become repetitive, but somehow they don't. Sandström's enthusiasm for her subject makes each work a fresh investigation. The paintings show especially well in Inman's pristine white space, with its frosty-looking white concrete floor that now feels like a snow cave. Through October 8. 3901 Main, 713-526-7800.

"Mid-Century Modern Revisited: Design 1943-1953" An enigmatic, molded plywood object hangs on the wall at Brazos Projects for the space's new exhibition. The object is a leg splint, and it was designed by Charles and Ray Eames and marketed to the U.S. Navy during WWII as an alternative to metal splints. Through designing the splint, the Eameses developed a technique to mold plywood and mass-produce it. They would later use the process to design furniture such as the 1946 molded plywood screen, which features beautifully undulating segments of wood held together by unobtrusive fabric hinges. In the show, the screen serves as a backdrop for other spectacular objects, like Eero Saarinen's "Womb Chair," which still looks fantastically contemporary almost 60 years later. The chair is grouped with George Nelson's glowing, podlike "Bubble Lamp" and the warm wood of an early version of Isamu Noguchi's iconic coffee table. While "Mid-Century Modern" has become a widely used and misused appellation, this little jewel of a show brings the term back to its origins with choice and beautiful objects from the early years. Through November 28. 2425 Bissonnet, 713-523-0701.

"Sharon Engelstein: Shapey" During the past few years, Sharon Engelstein used 3-D modeling software to design her otherworldly biomorphic sculptures. The final products, made with resin, were fabricated by computer. But in "Shapey," Engelstein's new exhibition at Mixture Contemporary Art, the technological precision is gone, replaced with a tactile handmade fleshiness. Using neolithic technology, the works in "Shapey" were formed from clay and fired. The smooth white sculptures have an amiably chunky visual weight; their cartoonlike forms have fleshy, lumpy bodies and floppy appendages. One Blue Paw (2004) is a rounded form with a robin's-egg blue bottom half and two drooping limbs, the end of one painted a pale blue. While Paw has a goofy sort of geniality, Saggy (2004) has an uneasy sensuality: With a lumpy, fatty form and two sagging protrusions, it's like a poochy belly sprouting what could be breasts or, just as easily, ears. In Big Innie Outie (2004), two white, silver-bottomed blobs snuggle together, as one nests its belly button-like innie in the other's outie. Engelstein's handmade forms are incredibly evocative, walking the line between the cute and the unsettling. Through October 9. 1709 Westheimer, 713-520-6809.

"Thomas Vinson: Home-run" So the artist/punk/nihilist-all-black look is out for the moment, which is almost too bad when you consider all the bright white at Thomas Vinson's show at Gallery Sonja Roesch. A few black-clad chin-rubbers slouching about would complement it perfectly. The islands of primary blue, red and yellow in the mostly white paintings against the intense white walls startle and impress. Vinson, trained as a sculptor, uses the three-dimensionality of multiple surfaces and displays a sense of composition reminiscent of Mondrian. The relations of the shapes in each of these pieces demonstrate an understanding of color and form at its most fundamental. Through October 30. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424.

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David Fahl
Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer