Capsule Reviews

"How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age" Two women take turns pouring water over each other's heads as they sit talking. They're wrapped in towels, and water drips down their bare shoulders as their voices echo in the room. Behind them is a stone basin with faucets; the setting is a hamam, or Turkish bath. The video is part of the installation Hamam (2001) by Turkish artist Esra Ersen, a sprawling group show of works at the Contemporary Arts Museum by international, er, global artists organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Hamam creates a wonderful sense of place. It's like visiting a foreign friend and hanging out with her girlfriends. When you travel, you take yourself out of your own context and willingly throw yourself off balance in new and unfamiliar territory. Visiting "Latitudes" is a little like that. But it's also a little like an overscheduled package tour -- the show hosts work by artists from China, India, Argentina, Turkey, Brazil, South Africa, Japan and the United States. It's something of a conglomeration, with "global-ness" as the loose organizing principle -- most pieces are primarily global in origin, while a few address globalism itself. Overall, the exhibition features strong works in a range of media. And the show's curators should be commended for venturing beyond known territory; after all, as long as you're within your own culture and know the context of the work, it's easier to interpret things. But, of course, a truly global approach to art will be impossible until artists from far-flung places are regularly included in shows not specifically about the "global." Through September 26. 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

"Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America" If you go to this exhibition expecting to see works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, you'll be disappointed. By emphasizing important but perhaps less familiar artists -- indeed, many of the works on display have rarely, if ever, been shown in the United States -- the exhibition makes the argument that Latin American art has played a more central role in the vanguard of 20th-century art than it's gotten credit for. Curated by Mari Carmen Ramírez and Héctor Olea and filling every spare inch of the Caroline Wiess Law Building at the MFAH, the show comprises more than 200 works by 67 artists. But it isn't a survey in any sense of the word. Instead, "Inverted Utopias" focuses on the two periods when the avant-garde really was avant -- the '20s and '30s, and again in the '50s and '60s -- and is arranged into six "constellations," thematic groupings that show artists from different generations together. The constellation is a rich organizing principle. As you move from grouping to grouping, connections are made between themes, practices and generations. "Progression and Rupture" includes Uruguayan Joaquín Torres-García, who first appears in "Universal and Vernacular," but also Lygia Clark (1920-1988), a Brazilian conceptualist almost two generations younger. She also appears, with very different work, in "Touch and Gaze" (most of that constellation, by the way, is interactive -- yeah, that means you get to play with the art). There's so much more in this groundbreaking exhibit -- Julio Le Parc's mesmerizing light murals; Cildo Meireles's playful subversion of your senses in Eureka/Blindhotland (1970-1975); Antonio Berni's wonderfully hideous Sordidness -- than there is space here to consider it. It's not often that an exhibition makes you rethink what you know about art, but "Inverted Utopias" may just be that rare event. Through September 12. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300.

"Perspectives 142: Boys Behaving Badly" Chloe Piene's short film about a boy in his undies, Little David, is projected onto a wall at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. The boy tromps around in the grass, flailing about in an imaginary fight with an invisible adversary. "I'll squish 'em, I'll squish 'em, I'll squish 'em," he says, using words taken from letters written to the artist by an incarcerated pen pal. "I'm a barbarian." By slowing down the video and putting a murderer's words in her subject's mouth, Piene has shown us how all little boys can be demonic. The work is unique in the way it flip-flops a cliché: Rather than showing us how all murderers were once little boys, Piene has shown us how all little boys could be murderers. The CAMH's literature states that the exhibition "features work that explores the clichés, isms and myths surrounding adolescent male behavior." Too bad many of the other pieces -- like Jen DeNike's wrestling adolescents or Pia Schachter's death-metal guys with a sensitive side -- just wind up being cliché. On the other hand, with his obviously staged photos of skaters, knights, vikings and bullies, Olaf Bruening takes clichés and amplifies them to the level of parody. And Anthony Goicolea does an exceptional job exaggerating, and thus unmasking, typical clichés of male adolescence. In Porn, four clones of the artist himself hang out in a tackily rustic room, watching a kinky lesbo love scene on the television, eating Oreos and drinking beer. One of them signs a cast on the leg of another, writing things like "fart-head," "penis wrinkle," "fuck you" and, of course, "get well soon." Through September 12 at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

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John Devine
Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer
Keith Plocek
Contact: Keith Plocek