Capsule Reviews

"Diane Arbus: Revelations" Diane Arbus photographed midgets, giants, transvestites and circus freaks. She also photographed suburban families in their backyards. In her photographs, strangeness is the great equalizer, and she exposes it in seemingly "normal" subjects. "Diane Arbus: Revelations" is a retrospective of her work, with photographs from the 1940s up until 1971, when she committed suicide. The exhibition features iconic as well as lesser-known Arbus images, supplemented by installations with contact sheets, pages from her notebooks, books from her library, copies of correspondence and collages of collected images from her studio. One photograph, A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, NY, 1970, shows an enormous, ungainly young man with two tiny, doll-like parents looking up at him. The son is stooped forward, and you wonder if the ceiling is even high enough for him to stand up straight. He leans on a cane, and one huge shoe seems to have an extra-thick sole, to compensate for one massive leg that is shorter than the other. It's a freakish image, defying scale and proportion. As you look at the photograph, you see the wry smile the son gives to his grim-looking parents, the plump mother in her neatly pressed dress, the father dapper in a dark suit with his hand in his pocket. This is no feel-good, triumph-over-adversity story; there is no happy ending. It simply is what it is. None of the photographs on view are comfortable; they make you feel ill at ease, and there's nothing reassuring or nice going on in them. The compassion underlying Arbus's images seems to stem from her understanding that all people are equally strange. Through August 29 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300.

"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 Parc¹s 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.

"Lock + Key" Leamon Green executes his multilayered portraits on paper mounted on canvas. His marks have an expressive sketchiness, and his portraits are strongest when they're most specific. Woman and Capital (2004) depicts a black woman leaning on a column with a Corinthian capital. The image of the woman, sensitively drawn in charcoal, seems taken from a vintage photograph, and it's overlaid with line drawings and backed by bands of color. Green intersperses his work with printmaking techniques -- a wallpaper pattern's band of acanthus leaves, silk-screened strips of lace. His works are pieced together like irregular quilts. Through August 14 at Hooks-Epstein Gallery, 2631 Colquitt, 713-522-0718.

"Parallel Stories: Brazilian & Venezuelan Abstract-Constructive Art 1950-1970" Sicardi Gallery has been putting forward a strong series of exhibitions, showing work by luminaries of the Latin American art world. Its present show explores optical phenomena. And this fascination with altering the ways we see is as intellectually intriguing as its results are spectacular. Jesús Raphael Soto's animated construction Escritura negra equilibrada (1977) is made from a black panel painted with white vertical lines and hung with a curtain of black wire forms. The wires are like lines liberated from the page; floating in space, they become a drawing in the air as they move vertically and horizontally, curving and arcing. Carlos Cruz-Diez also plays with our optical perception, in paintings that layer vertical sections of plastic or painted cardboard. The images shift as you walk past them; you see a different set of colors and images from an oblique angle than you do standing directly in front of it. It makes for a pleasant optical blur. The effect is not unlike those lenticular images that suddenly turn Jesus into Mary as you walk past. But Cruz-Diez's works are the opposite of kitsch. He is a purist with image-free work that's all about color and optical effect. There are good early examples of this technique on view at Sicardi: Physiochromie n. 17 (1960) and Physiochromie n. 103 (1963). Reproductions don't do any of this work justice; you have to see it in person. Through August 14. 2246 Richmond, 713-529-1313.

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