Capsule Reviews

Barnyard Betsy Odom makes life on the farm wholly surreal and extra-terrestrial. Odom uses everyday materials--duct, masking and reflective tape, papier maché, plastic, Styrofoam, latex wall paint and Astroturf--to sculpt a landscape more inflected by the wonderland of Lewis Carroll's beloved Alice than Rudy's Farm of sausage fame. Strolling a winding path through a room-scale installation, one finds piñata-like red foxes and shiny white goats made from tape, Astrobunnies with green Astroturf for fur and plaster-cast and painted Bengal squirrels. On the wall hangs Odom's landscape "paintings" in which she uses tape as a substitute for paint. In "Cowscape," Odom raises banal media--materials bought from Home Depot--to an unforeseen height. She successfully models shape, form and landscape, creating pictorial space out of the two dimensions of flatness--all with various grades of tape. Through May 29 at Barry Whistler Gallery, 2909-B Canton St., 214-939-0242. Reviewed May 20.

Alex de Leon The question begs: What to do with art that makes avid if not heavy-handed political statements in an era so eager to wrest itself from the rant, screed and morality inherently connected with political art? Is it the responsibility of art to engender social revolution, much less social consciousness? Do we care? These are the questions instigated by Alex de Leon's miniature city of wayward form made from placards the artist has bought from homeless people. In de Leon's hands the desperate, hand-written scrawls of the homeless--"Will work for food," "Homeless veteran," "Need help, God bless you"--become the writing on the walls of a small town. At the head of the town sits a church, also fashioned from homeless placards, that focuses our attention on the phrase "God bless you" recurrent throughout the small installation. Enveloping this shanty urbanism, video monitors, three televisions and one video projection show highway scenes taken from the artist's studio. The point-of-view looks up from below as if shot from underneath a bridge or highway overpass, the usual haunts of homeless men and women seeking shelter. Has the artist informed us that he is like the homeless? Or is he an opportunist, cadging from cadgers an unfortunate livelihood? This is a small installation that will make you think. Through June 12 at the Dallas Center for Contemporary Art, 2801 Swiss Ave., 214-821-2522. Reviewed May 6.

By: Photographs by Nan Coulter As the prepositional title of the show suggests, Coulter's photographs set in relief images that are in between: pictures that are pregnant with the remains of what came before and the possibilities of what comes after. While Coulter has photographed world-renowned cities, you won't find picture-postcard images of palaces or famous monuments in this collection of 18 photographs at Iris. "Versailles" is represented in passing, by way of two shots of subway trains, spray-painted and speedily moving along. The très chic Musée d'Orsay in Paris is not seen in terms of the transformed 19th-century train shed that it is but rather a blurred shot of a silk-screened starlet's head on a museum-goer's purse. Since being on the move means also taking breathers on street corners, not all images are shifty and blurred. One of the most poignant is Coulter's photo-of-a-photo titled "Leominster, England." Seen through a window, this father-mother-child shot à la Sears family portraiture casts an eerie presence, as you might think you're looking at the real family rather than their verisimilitude. But who's to say what's real and what's not with today's photoplay? The photographs of this photojournalist turned magician of the banal are good to go and on the go. Through June 5 at Iris Restaurant, 5405 W. Lovers Lane, 214-352-2727.

Concentrations 44: Matthew Buckingham, "A Man of the Crowd" Installed deep within the recesses of the Museum's contemporary art galleries, Matthew Buckingham's film work is an exercise in refracted perception. The piece consists of photographs and film in two adjacent rooms. The juxtaposing of somber black-and-white photographs and the pyrotechnics of film installed according to the architecture of video installation makes an otherwise cloying and nostalgic piece interesting. The film installation takes place in a long, rectangular gallery where a loop runs, also in black-and-white, of two men perambulating through Vienna, one in pursuit of the other. Bisecting the space is a two-sided mirror that deflects and refracts the film projection onto the facing wall. Onlookers are intended to become pedestrians on the streets of Vienna as through bodily interaction your shadow becomes part of the piece. Basing the work on Edgar Allan Poe's "Man in the Crowd," Buckingham renegotiates timeworn and obsolete themes of alienation and urban life in the 20th century. The strength of this piece lies in performance rather than content--in the simplistic to-and-fro between film, human perception and the body roving through space rather than the fetishistic regurgitation of Poe's classic. Through June 20 at the Dallas Museum of Art, 214-922-1200. Reviewed April 8.

Paintings by Hyun Ju Chung and Mixed Media Works by Connie Arismendi Bringing together the otherwise distinct work of Chung and Arismendi is the physics of layering. While working strictly in oil on wood, the Korean artist Chung works the picture plane simultaneously with thick, impastoed paint and swatches of stencil-like fabric. Layering fabric atop paint and paint atop fabric, Chung's small-scaled series "Memory of Anonymous Weed" brings to mind the fabric-imprinted canvases of Mark Flood. Arismendi's mixed media results in a far different play of layering. Arismendi builds drawing on top of drawing but with space literally in between. In "Twilight," one of the better works, the artist has delicately drawn a flower on a translucent sheet of Mylar and placed it on steel studs above a large blue acrylic panel depicting fish swimming free-form beneath. If you're an aficionado of New Age imagery, then Arismendi is your artist. While Arismendi's palette of pastels and diaphanous lady heads can be vaguely cloying and simple, Chung's pictures of rope and doodly graffiti leave you questioning the new possibilities of that age-old medium of oil painting. Through June 12 at Cidnee Patrick Gallery, 2404 Cedar Springs Road at Maple Avenue, 214-855-5101.

Photographs of Texas by Allison V. Smith Smith makes pretty, slightly out-of-kilter photographs of West Texas' meagerly urban landscape. Taken while on a brief sojourn in Marfa last fall, the sometimes brightly colored and always compositional images of Smith betray a photojournalist segueing into the realm of art photography. And arty they are. With electric light bristling against twilight, shadow rubbing up next to storm-puddle reflections, "Side Street" is Magritte without the intellectual high jinks. Smith's photographs seem like a catalog of quotations with none of the conceptual punch of the people she quotes. Aptly titled "Birds on a Wire," Smith's shot of birds on an overhead wire brings to mind Hitchcock without any of the horror or conflict. The blue paint on the wall of "Sandy's" conspires with the blue color of the roof to make a composition reminiscent of some of William Eggleston's best work--but without any of the perky everyday perversity. Maybe this should be a show on the "without"--appropriations without much invention--of a photographer transitioning from journalism to something else. Through May 29 at Barry Whistler Gallery, 2909-B Canton St., 214-939-0242.

Turner and Venice If you love the city in idea and form, then this exhibition of work by the 19th-century painter J.M.W. Turner is a must. Turner's scintillating views of Venice do more than tickle the eye. These urban vistas transport you back in time to an earlier chapter in the history of abstraction within painting. With a total of 33 oil paintings and some 128 works on paper, it's a vast showing of one old master's obsession with the miracles of a city built on water. The careful splash and daub of his brushstroke can be mind-boggling, but Turner's watercolors might very well steal the show. Through May 30 at the Kimbell Art Museum, 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd., Metro 817-654-1034. Reviewed April 1.