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"Peat Duggins: Wreaths" Wreaths are ubiquitous this time of year, but the wreaths in Peat Duggins's fourth solo show at Art Palace have nothing to do with evergreens or season's greetings. In one piece, there's a perfect circle of wasps, forming a ring out of what seems like a hole in the wall. In the next, a snake subtly lurks in a lovely bouquet of azaleas. In another careful arrangement, this one of lilies, ants crawl about on the pink and white petals, quietly going about their business. These works are full of life, though there's a sense of control and order to it. The wasps are never out of line; the ants keep to their petals. The most things threaten to fall apart is in Untitled (Roaches), wherein the icky bugs are drawn to scale and take over nearly the entire frame, keeping an improbable square formation except for the bottom right, where they start to break away. Or maybe they're getting into their proper place. These are works about order and disorder, a reaction to our attempt to tame what has always been wild. Each of these pieces is done in watercolor and ink that is so exact and straightforward in its drawing of roaches, wasps and other bugs, you wouldn't be surprised to find them as illustrations in a children's book (and Duggins is no stranger to children's books, having illustrated one called Grendel Gander the Sinister Goose, published earlier this year). In addition to making these usually unpleasant subjects palatable, the watercolors are intended to be taken at face value, stripped of any symbolism; there's no Freudian meaning in those ants. It's a concept that takes some getting used to, as it's hard to imagine there isn't any implied meaning somewhere in a watercolor like Untitled (Eagle/Snake), wherein a snake battles an eagle on a bed of green leaves. But in the end, that's just what it is, and that's pretty refreshing. Through January 5. 3912 Main, 281-501-2964. — MD

"Staring at the Wall: The Art of Boredom" When an art show about boredom begins with the warning "Viewer discretion is advised," you can rest assured it'd be anything but boring. In "Staring at the Wall: The Art of Boredom," the main show currently up at Lawndale Art Center, curator Katia Zavistovski brings together six artists who address boredom in their work, whether through the pieces' repetitiveness or as a distraction from boredom. From the get-go, the show seems pretty sparse, though there's a lot to unpack among the drawings, video and sculpture present. Upon entering the gallery, the first thing you hear are the words "art," "work," "hard" and "work" repeated in a robotic-like chant from somewhere, but we'll get to that later. Chris Akin's works stands out for its referencing of another Houston art institution — the Menil. A guard at the museum, Akin says he's "spent a lot of time looking at the floor." Using that as inspiration, he's mapped out areas of the Menil's gallery spaces from his various perspectives. The most effective of these works is a two-year series that depicts the Menil floor plan. The shape of the floor is tilted at an angle, turning it into a piece of abstraction, and is repeated six times in black, green, gray and yellow, as if Akin's returned to it and wanted to depict a different mood. Jeremy DePrez tackles boredom head on by replicating the spiraling scribble from one of his notebooks. In a clever, playful conceit, he's turned a 6½-inch doodle into a 6½-foot oil painting. The mindless, unconscious, typically insignificant act of doodling becomes monumental and through the act of painting gives it this funny, unexpected reverence. Rounding out the paintings is the lone inclusion by Seth Alverson — an oil painting of an empty red leather chair. In this case, the subject matter itself is boring. This is a risky choice — can the work itself rise above the inherent banality of its subject? In this case, the piece is saved by the rusty blood red of the chair, which is an unusual, intriguing choice. Boredom is often measured in the passage of time — or seeming stoppage of it — a topic explored in Uta Barth's photographs. This is a difficult thing to convey, but in two similar works, she manages to capture the ephemeral quality of sunlight as it moves like an unsteady cardiogram across a curtain. The images themselves seem to be barely there. Video artist Jenny Schlief turns the camera on what's just in front of her — her young children. Kids are constantly entertained, whether it's by toys, TV or their own imaginations. They should not know boredom. In Schlief's videos, they are wrapped up in their own mindless activities. In one, her son and daughter dance in the shower wearing animal masks. In another, her daughter shakes it to Vivaldi's "Spring," playing from a toy ark, while Schlief says, "I am making art" over and over again in a nod/ode to John Baldessari's self-conscious performance art. It is all so delightfully, giddily absurd. Whereas Schlief's works can be enjoyed without any introduction, Clayton Porter's have a backstory that needs to be shared to really resonate and have meaning. For instance, Anal Patina isn't just a stationary bike with a curious bronze seat anymore once you learn that he rode more than 650 miles — naked — on the bike (there's photographic proof). Similarly, eight plaster of Paris casts of melted butter that line the window are seemingly nothing more until you find out about Porter's process. That's revealed discreetly through three inward-facing TV screens that are the source of the spoken words "artwork" and "hard work." Spoiler alert: Each screen shows a video of the artist placing his erect penis onto butter, causing it to melt. (That's where the viewer discretion is advised.) Once you get over the unexpected imagery, it's a process not unlike watching paint dry. It's boredom in the flesh. Through January 12. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — MD

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