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.

"Encore" A retrospective of the late artist Laurent Boccara's work is on view at McClain Gallery. Boccara, a painter, archeologist and raconteur, died in 2002. In his painting Diaspora (1994), an impossibly crisp, threadlike orange line snakes painstakingly along. It navigates the painting's well-polished surface of cobalt blue and black striations. In Slash and Cut (1995), a slender white line is stretched taut over the surface of the canvas. It runs down the middle of the painting, containing and dividing the burnished brown-black ground. The works have beautiful surfaces and a dogged, controlled calmness to their lines. Also on view are two of the artist's wonderful -- and multitudinous -- sketchbooks. Boccara filled them with crisp drawings and tiny, beautifully rendered studies for paintings. Through July 31. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988.

"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.

"Olafur Eliasson: Photographs" Olafur Eliasson presents a world with a quietly powerful, contemplative and fascinating beauty. For his exhibition at the Menil Collection, he's taken photos of Iceland and grouped them in grids, creating series of images and recording his movements though landscape -- over a trail, down a river. He creates what are essentially portraits of the natural and man-made phenomena he explores: chunks of intensely blue glacial ice, boulders, broken stones, bridges. Portraits of rocks may sound boring as hell, but his carefully examined presentation makes them fascinating. Nature's incredible variety is a patently obvious concept, but Eliasson explores it without heavy-handedness. You go through the same process of discovery he did in taking his pictures, editing them and grouping them together. The path series (1999), a grid of 24 photographs, depicts lush green grass worn away to reveal rich, dark earth, footsteps embossed in a line in the snow, and a trail burnished into a desolate stony field. It's a record of different landscapes and a document of the artist's walk through his environment. And what a strange environment it is. In The moss valley series (2002), a grid of 16 large photographs records sections of rocky, moss-covered earth. The undulating carpets of dull green look like NASA shots of an alien landscape. They're beautiful and just a little bit creepy. The landscape series (1997) has some lovely images, but the scenic shots aren't as compelling because they're not as specific as his other investigations. Eliasson's work is at its best when parameters are more closely defined. Through September 5. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400.

"One Color Only?" Thomas Deyle's Scarabaeus paintings dominate this exhibition devoted to mainly monochromatic works. Consisting of about 600 (yep, 600) thin coats of paint on acryl-glass, the three paintings seem to throb off the wall, making you question your sobriety as you stare at the emanating panes. Keep blinking all you want; the haze just ain't gonna go away. Also impressive is a red resin block by Herbert Hamack, positioned so it sticks out from the wall like an open shutter. Mick Johnson has some of his text-based work on display here, which, much like his opus at DiverseWorks's "Texas Prime" show, consists of scrunched-up messages painted in solid colors and then screwed to the wall. Yes, this exhibition is proof that monochromatism doesn't have to be boring. But when it comes down to it, most of the works on display here have subtle changes in color throughout -- hence the question mark in the exhibition's title. When taken together, the works by various artists provide invigorating splotches of color on otherwise whitewashed walls. Through August 7 at Gallery Sonja Roesch, 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424.

"Uncrated II..." This exhibition of works by Australian aboriginal artists is a mixed bag, but the show has some stunning paintings. These are individual artworks, all informed by their makers' cultures. John Lee's Ngarelli (Creation of the Country) (2003) is spectacular. Done in acrylic on linen, its colors are fantastically vivid. Black, fuchsia, orange and green lines of paint encircle each other, almost as if they were crocheted. Nana Booker explains that the organically abstract pattern has its origins in geography -- both mythic and real. Two thick black lines indicate a river made by a serpent's trail. The curving parallel lines of other sections indicate wind patterns or sand rills. Suddenly, the visually dynamic painting also registers as a gorgeous, loving topography; you see the importance of land to Lee and his culture. The loss of it becomes all the more poignant. In the art world at large, there's been a tendency to shove aboriginal works into the realm of cultural novelty and ignore their power as contemporary artwork. As "Uncrated II..." shows, works by aboriginal artists need to be exhibited in art museums, not ghettoized in natural history museums. Through July 31 at Booker-Lowe Gallery, 4623 Feagan, 713-880-1541.

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Kelly Klaasmeyer
Contact: Kelly Klaasmeyer
Keith Plocek
Contact: Keith Plocek