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"The Ornamental Plumb Bob" A plumb bob isn't something you'd usually see on display to admire. The typically acorn-shaped weight is used behind the scenes, by the likes of carpenters, architects and artists, to note the verticality of a surface. It's rarely seen as a work of art in and of itself. Gary Schott begs to differ, though. The San Antonio metalsmith has a new series on display in the solo show "The Ornamental Plumb Bob" at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft that asks you to admire the plumb bob for its aesthetic contributions. More than a dozen plumb-bob weights line the center's artist hall, suspended from the walls in between the artist studios. Historically, these weights have taken the form of anything from fruits and vegetables to nautical designs and the standard acorn. Schott favors the last, with weights that look like ice cream cones. They're painted bold colors and hang from decorative plaques of varying shapes, sizes and colors, like ornaments or earrings. Though they all serve the same purpose in the end, each one is unique. The cords the plumb bobs hang from also vary. Three weights in a row may hang at the same length, satisfyingly in sync, while others hang at different lengths, helping to highlight their differences. There's a rhythm and flow to the show, even if it's disrupted by the occasional door. The HCCC has a habit of exploring the functional versus the decorative purposes of items, and that doesn't get old. These tools are made with such precision and care, only to be used to make something else. But by giving plumb bobs their day in the sun, this exhibit lets you explore their simple beauty. Through July 27. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. —MD

"Playback" When you first walk into Fresh Arts and survey the TV screens scattered around the darkened gallery, a quick glance might give you the impression that the screens are stuck on frames of couples embracing or kissing. But on closer inspection, it steadily becomes apparent that these are not frames but actors holding these poses, in all their awkward glory. This ingenious concept is part of Britt Ragsdale's "Duets" series. The Houston artist has her video work up at Fresh Arts in "Playback," a show curated by Paul Middendorf of galleryHOMELAND. In four screens, Ragsdale pulls inspiration from familiar scenes in classic films like An Affair to Remember and Giant — couples gazing longingly into each others' eyes, about to kiss, in a dramatic embrace. The videos are even in black and white, some softened to give them that dated, classic look. Ragsdale uses real couples to copy these poses — fleeting moments that the artist has stretched out into six, seven, eight, even 12 minutes. What's meant to be a romantic gesture soon becomes less than intimate, even pained, due to what Ragsdale describes as "intense scrutiny." This scrutiny reveals more about human relationships than any film trope can. During the extended shots, one couple rocks slightly back and forth, while another starts to pull slightly away. A man jokingly puckers his lips, while another swallows hard, his Adam's apple prominent. At the end of one video, a woman cracks her knuckles, as if relieved that the task at hand is over. Hand-holding is sweet and all, but everyone has his limits. Ragsdale scrutinizes another film trope in her "Run-Through" series. In The Chase, an actress runs towards the camera — so close you can see her smudged eye makeup — gasps dramatically, then calmly walks back to her starting point, only to do it all over again. It goes on like that for 20 minutes. The repetition makes the act funny, bizarre and ultimately meaningless, emphasizing how generic this familiar scene is. It's like a horror movie supercut, but more effective. There is a third video, called Don't Talk to Strangers — a two-and-a-half-minute piece that pulls from random archives with brief shots of things like couples dancing, a cat playing with a string and women getting their hair done. Though significantly busier than the others, it's not as engaging. It's worth it to invest your time in the others. You'll never look at classic films the same way again. Through July 12. 2101 Winter, 713-868-1839. —MD

"PRINTTX" By name alone, the Museum of Printing History may seem like the last place you'd find contemporary work in the print field. But among the permanent displays that chronicle the history of printing can be found impressive works that experiment with the form and subject matter. So it is with "PRINTTX," the first juried exhibition of contemporary Texas artists as part of PRINTHOUSTON 2013, a summer-long event celebrating both traditional and contemporary printmaking in the state. Peter S. Briggs, the Helen DeVitt Jones Curator of Art at the Museum of Texas Tech University, has pulled together 23 works of varying sizes and materials by 20 artists. Some of the more engaging pieces aren't what you'd think of when you consider prints. Ann Johnson's Sky's Nest is a sphere of intaglio and found objects suspended from the ceiling by a string. Inside this enclosed nest is, curiously, a faint, ghost-like image of a girl printed on feathers — it's obvious but at the same time unexpected. Orna Feinstein's The Fan is less mysterious. This sculptural wall piece consists of a blue and black monoprint on a plexi and metal part. The circular spots of color repeat the fan's shape over and over in circles themselves, making it all about the whirring motion of this geometric form. Among the more typical prints, Evan Leigh Rottet's photographic lithograph Trash? is a beautifully saturated piece that depicts a pile of garbage in great sepia tones, implying that these discarded items may still have value. Trash? indeed. Other prints have grander, more political implications. Jesus De La Rosa's lithograph Party Is Over is a bright pink piñata with bullets for ears and a look of what seems to be concern in its piñata eye. The small, bold print definitely catches your attention, but then keeps you as it makes a commentary on the "hidden nature of the US/Mexican war on illegal drugs," says the artist. There are plenty of these subtle details, including the button and shirt tag of Joëlle Verstraeten's cool blue monoprints, in a show that offers plenty to admire. Through September 14. 1324 W. Clay, 713-522-4652. —MD

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