Art Notes

Ask Alice: One of strongest and most unflinching exhibitions we%26#8217;ve seen at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has just opened %26#8212; %26#8220;Alice Neel: Painted Truths%26#8221; (through June 13), co-curated by the MFAH%26#8217;s astute Barry Walker and Brit Jeremy Lewison, formerly of the Tate. The show is set for a European tour, marking the American artist%26#8217;s first retrospective across the pond. The bold and brave portraitist (1900 %26#8211;%26nbsp;1984) was a contemporary of Andy Warhol %26#8212; whom she painted %26#8220;like a young Saint Sebastian,%26#8221; comments Walker %26#8212; and captured Robert Smithson and family members in a style both startling and timeless, paving the way for artists such as Elizabeth Peyton, John Currin, Julian Schnabel and Anh Duong ... Continuing at the MFAH is Emily Neff%26#8217;s remarkably curated view showcasing hometown-owned canvases by the great American expat John Singer Sargent in %26#8220;Houston%26#8217;s Sargents%26#8221; (through May 9). Acquire the catalog now at the MFAH bookstore ($24.95).

Sculpture Times Deux: While it%26#8217;s being billed as a sculpture showdown, Houston audiences benefit. French master Bernar Venet continues at Hermann Park with epic twists of CorTen steel (through September 30), while James Surls returns home for what he told us is %26#8220;the most important project I%26#8217;ve ever undertaken in Houston%26#8221; with %26#8220;Magnificent Seven,%26#8221; a suite of seven monumental bronze and stainless-steel sculptures laced throughout the Rice campus. They sprout like graceful evocations about time, man and the land (through August), presented by Houston Arts Alliance and Rice University Public Art Program, directed respectively by Jonathon Glus and Molly Hubbard; patroness Judy Nyquist assisted in the fund-raising. Then at Rice Gallery, director Kim Davenport surprises with Hungarian installationist Andrea Dezs%26#246;%26#8217;s sweet suite of tunnel books, %26#8220;Sometimes in My Dreams I Fly,%26#8221; which recall childhood memories of imagined space travel (through August 8).

Five Gals and Two Guys: Here are some of our FotoFest faves: Libbie Masterson%26#8217;s nuanced %26#8220;Sky,%26#8221; both night and daytime views of the American skyscape, at Wade Wilson Art (April 1 %26#8211; 27); Inman Gallery%26#8217;s solo for former Core Fellow Demetrius Oliver, whose photographs enfold prosaic objects in mystery (through May 1); rising lenswoman Laura Letinski at Peel Gallery, whose coolly considered still lifes owe a debt to the Dutch genre, while possessing a contemporary edge (through April 16); Houston talent Ann Stautberg at Parkerson Gallery, presenting hand-painted monumental black-and-white prints of hibiscus from an insect%26#8217;s perspective (through May 1); Luis Mallo at Sicardi Gallery, taking us behind the scenes into the storage vaults of American museums including the MFAH (through April 3); Kinzelman%26#8217;s Art Consulting%26#8217;s mounting of %26#8220;Inside Roy Lichtenstein%26#8217;s Studio,%26#8221; snapped by former assistant Laurie Lambrecht, at Bank of America Center (through June 1); and at Bering %26amp; James, Shelley Calton%26#8217;s pitch-perfect black-and-whites, which record the rites of femininity (through April 12).

Two Texans, One International: Bert Long Jr. takes over the Jung Center with new canvases inspired by founder C.G. Jung%26#8217;s recently published personal journal (April 17 %26#8211;%26nbsp;May 28), while contemporary Richard Stout opens in a retrospective culling 50 years of painting and sculpture at Canal Street Gallery (April 2 %26#8211; 27, reception Friday, April 9) %26#8230; At Barbara Davis Gallery, red-hot Italian Andrea Bianconi reprises his one-person Volta NY show, %26#8220;A Charmed Life,%26#8221; including an opening-night performance Friday, April 9 (through May 1).

Buffet Line: Collectible and high recommended are collaborators Kelly Pike, Kara Hearn, and Sasha Dela, who roll out Buffet: All You Can Eat Video, including videos by Cody Ledvina, Laura Lark and Lauren Kelly, featuring cameos by Glenna Bell, Rachel Cook, Andrea Grover with daughters Gigi and Lola Lama, and Thelma and George Smith and daughter Kaneem, spurred by grants from the Houston Arts Alliance and The Idea Fund ($25,

Image, above: James Surls%26#8217; Ten Big Standing Bronze Flowers, 2008, at Rice University; photo by Jeff Fitlow

Image, below: Alice Neel%26#8217;s Dorothy Pearlstein, 1969, at MFAH; Estate of Alice Neel

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