Capsule Reviews

"Fade In: New Film and Video" This Contemporary Arts Museum exhibition, curated by Paola Morsiani, presents a group of works by eight international artists. American Luis Gispert's installation, Foxy Xerox (2003), is a witty take on the appropriation of hip-hop culture by white America. On one wall, a blond girl in a pale blue terry sweat suit and lots of gold jewelry dances to a hip-hop track. On the opposite wall, we see the same girl in a pink sweat suit, wearing a black wig and blackface, which is, of course, jolting for anybody who didn't grow up in the 1930s. It has obviously unsettling associations, but here Gispert is using it to effectively parody white emulation of black culture. The girl's makeup is unconvincingly applied and smeared all over her clothes as she tries really, really hard and really, really unsuccessfully to be something she isn't. A couple of the pieces could be vastly improved by some editing and self-restraint on the part of the artists. Israeli artist Doron Solomons has a lot of ideas going on in his video Father (2002). There's enough material here for more than one video: computer animation, home videos, news segments, car safety tests and videotaped suicide notes. The artist is commenting on being a father and living in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he's throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. Artists have been using film and video since the early 1960s, but at a recent panel on new media in Houston, a local arts professional questioned its worth as an art form. It's a debate most people consider long over. Film and video are tools just like any other. Through July 4. 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

"Gordon Terry: Black Holes, Bohemians, Colonials and Boudoirs" Gordon Terry's work is primarily organically abstract. He uses vibrantly colored and superpigmented acrylics to create swirled, marbleized and dotted puddles on sheets of glass. Once they're dry, he peels them up and melds groups of them to gleaming slabs of acrylic in black, white, yellow, green...The results are otherworldly and fantastical. The works, with their gorgeous blends of color, draw you in the same way a bright and shiny object attracts a pea-brained bird. Loooook, pretty! Some look like hard-candy versions of millefiori -- you want to break off pieces and eat them. Others have celestial overtones, depicting what could be stars clustered in a system or vividly hued gaseous surfaces of far-off planets. But this show is something of a conglomeration, with Terry wandering off in a lot of directions -- there are a text piece, several series of abstract works and another series of works in which he's adhering his dots to luridly colored paintings of colonial houses and etchings of opulent interiors. The show's title is effectively catch-all. Terry is creating some interesting and often successful experiments, but showing such a broad inventory of his work may not necessarily serve him well. It emphasizes the range of processes rather than the works themselves. Through May 29 at New Gallery, 2627 Colquitt, 713-520-7053.

"Manual: Two Worlds -- The Collaboration of Ed Hill and Suzanne Bloom" Artists Ed Hill and Suzanne Bloom coined the collaborative pseudonym Manual in the spring of 1974 and have been working as a team ever since. Manual's body of work includes film, video and digital media as well as objects and installations. This watershed show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which hasn't exactly shown a lot of new media art, is presenting a retrospective of their work. It's an important show for Manual, whose role in the evolution of digital art is not widely known. These artworks succeed or fail independent of the technology used to create them. The earlier pieces and pop culture-themed works from the mid-'80s are the most immediately engaging. A quiet sense of loss and lament pervades many of the nature-focused works, but the later "Arcadia" series -- for which they used a computer to insert virtual 3-D constructions into nature scenes -- becomes more of a hermetic intellectual exercise. As Manual explores the natural world and its relationship to man, the pair's desire to avoid stridency and obvious advocacy sometimes results in images that are too measured or ambiguous to engage the viewer. This could be a side effect of the collaboration that has served the duo so well in other aspects. The rough edges of personal idiosyncrasy have been increasingly rounded off in Manual's works. Still, throughout their collaboration, Manual has worked on the cutting edge of new media, and that's not because they're technophiles. Their work isn't about technological showmanship; they simply use technology as a tool. Through May 23. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300.

"Robbie Austin: Ripple Effect" Robbie Austin's plywood sculptures look like they were crafted by an extremely earnest but terrifically unskilled hobbyist. They're purposely wonky objects -- a big skewed cube balances on a blocky foot, its plywood surface randomly patched with swatches of more plywood. But the surfaces are the best part. Austin sands the crap out them, blunting edges and corners. It's a goofy, doomed-to-fail, silk-purse-out-of-a-sow's-ear strategy; with elbow grease and acres of sandpaper Austin tries to make raw, striated plywood elegant and clunky patches unobtrusive. The smoothed surfaces are coated with a matte sealer that makes you want to pet them. But the flocking Austin uses on other works is even more tactile. Baby Blue is a chalky white, branchlike sculpture that grows directly out of the wall. One slender arm reaches to the side, coated in pale blue flocking like the velvet of a deer antler. For Momma, a stumpy form protrudes from the wall, and anthropomorphic twig arms reach up. The whole thing is lushly coated with deep purple flocking. Austin deals in touchable surfaces and appealingly awkward forms. Through June 19 at Gallery Sonja Roesch, 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer