Briefly Noted

Shane Tolbert’s Tuna Steak, left, and Copa Cola, both 2012. Photo by Devon Britt-Darby.

There’s always more art out there than we can fit into A+C, but we couldn’t let 2012 end without giving these shows a shout-out. You, in turn, should give them a visit.

Shane Tolbert: Talk of Montauk – The Houston painter returns from an Edward Albee Foundation residency with suitcase-sized canvases, some of which nevertheless project a deceptive sense of bigness. The modest scale of these analytical yet dreamy abstractions – along with their experimental quality that references while departing from the subtractive process Tolbert used in previous work with dyed fabrics – suit the space well. So well, in fact, that Tuna Steak, a runny-nosed post-punk riff on Hans Hofmann, and Copa Cola, a sweet pink-and-green gem of a painting in which an orb hovers over shifting swatches of cross-hatched color fields, go beautifully not only with each other but with the aged, battered floor at Bill’s Junk, where the show continues through December 22.

Sharon Engelstein: I like that very much a lot – Individually evoking cartoonish fragments of bodies, Engelstein’s 10 ceramic sculptures exude a creepy-and-kooky Addams Family-like charm. But it’s the inspired way she’s installed them – huddled together on Styrofoam pedestals, which bring out both their playful and melancholic qualities, they muster a tragicomic grandeur –that gives the ensemble an impact worthy of the best installations in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s recent Shifting Paradigms in Contemporary Ceramics: The Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio Collection.  A knockout. Through December 22 at Devin Borden Gallery.

Joseph Havel: Hope and Desire – Pushing gallerist Hiram Butler’s love of simplicity and empty space nearly to its logical conclusion, sculptor Joseph Havel removed most of his own show’s pieces – ghostly resin casts of stacked books or fleshier, folksier ceramic variations of the same  – from the main gallery, exiling them to secondary spaces that they inhabit with a aplomb, giving the exhibition the feeling of a rewarding scavenger hunt. The title work is a mural-sized, 10-panel grid of some 40,000 shirt labels – some bearing the word “hope,” others “desire,” concepts that sometimes coincide, often overlap and are still more often confused. All are arranged yet don’t quite fall lockstep into patterns reminiscent of early Frank Stella Black Paintings, the labels’ luxuriant French blue notwithstanding. It shares the room with Architecture, a resin tower cast from Sigmund Freud’s collected works that tops out at five-feet-seven-inches, Freud’s height. Through Jan. 26 at Hiram Butler Gallery.