"Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection" There sits in the Audrey Jones Beck Building at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston an exhibition that is equal parts art history and memoriam: "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection," donated to the museum by Wilson after her death, is a connection between Wilson's love of art, her love of the history that created it and, ultimately, her love of MFAH. The exhibit reveals an interesting intersection between ancient Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian and Egyptian art and customs. The clearest connection that stands out among these ancient civilizations is status and wealth. For example, Mummy Portrait of a Young Girl, a wax piece from 30 B.C. to 100 A.D., fuses two cultures: the Egyptian practice of mummification and the Roman custom of creating portraits of the mummified. The young girl's pretty gold locket and fanciful purple robes are more than mere decoration; they tell of the upper-class stock she must have come from, since the hot wax used to make the work of art was fickle, drying quickly and requiring the artist to work swiftly, and families would pay a pretty penny for this service. There are also connections within each culture. Much of ancient Egypt's art could be used for practical purposes and then recycled into other pieces, either useful or artistic. A faience is finely ground crystal. Egyptians manipulated faience into jewelry, game pieces, furniture, bowls and cups, and later converted the crystal into small figurines that would lie with the mummified dead in the afterlife. The shabti of Tjai-en-hebu is one of three such figures on display just outside the gallery's front doors, ranging from tiny to small to medium in size. Through October 27. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300 — AO

"MOVING/STILL: Recent Photography by Texas Artists" This exhibit explores the complicated relationship human beings have with nature through the viewfinders of 12 photographers. To these artists, dealing with nature means accepting its unpredictability. The exhibition is showing at both FotoFest and the Houston Center for Photography. Gnashing of Teeth is both ugly and beautiful. First, all of Badger's photographs are inkjet prints, matte alternatives to the glossies strewn throughout the gallery. This works well with the subject of the photograph, who splashes around in muddy waters. Black mud covers her all over, from her black dress to her black hair, but she doesn't appear to be grossed out. In fact, the look on her face is one of pure ecstasy, of giving herself away to a sticky subconscious. Elizabeth Chivas's Figs From Thistles series is titled after a book of poetry by the same name, her grandmother's favorite. The photographs look for beauty among the now barren. Chivas started photographing plant wildlife in spring 2013, just as Texas's cold winter was turning to warm summer — however, after a season of drought, wildflowers were hard to come by; what was left were bunches of dried-out, burned-out grass. Chivas's photos capture the rare flowers that grew despite this distress, whether they were an unexpected gathering of pink, orange and yellow wildflowers (Figs from Thistles no. 1) or a lone pink flower (Figs from Thistles no. 4), surviving in spite of the ruin. Two of Keliy Anderson-Staley's pictures sum up the entire exhibition: The "Round Barn" at Zocalo, Gouldsboro, Maine and Earthways Lodge in Winter. On the left, The "Round Barn" displays a cylindrical home; green grass grows all around. The overgrown, thick grass represents life, as do the other items around the barn: a bike, red doors, a wheelbarrow. Earthways Lodge shows the complete opposite: an abandoned hut that's covered in hay. It's clear no one has tended the little lodge in a long time, since a pile of snow covers the hay. The cold snow represents stasis, or even death. On the other hand, the wildly growing green grass in the former C-Print represents growth and, ultimately, life. Life is fluid; death is static. Where The "Round Barn" is MOVING, in Earthways Lodge, life is STILL. Through October 27. Houston Center for Photography, 1441 W. Alabama, and FotoFest, 1113 Vine. 713-223-5522. — AO

"Retro-spectacle" Wade Wilson Art recently opened "Retro-spectacle," a two-part past-and-present exhibition by Houston-based artist Michael Crowder. The "Retro" is Crowder's retrospective: innocuous glass and crystal mixed-media pieces hanging in the front part of the gallery, followed by the "spectacle," a fabulous three-dimensional installation in back. The two-in-one exhibition is separated by two white walls, drawn open by a dramatic "red velvet" curtain. What Crowder has done, essentially, is transform Wade Wilson Art into two rooms. To the untrained eye, walking into the back of "Mariposa mori" is like walking into a Shakespearean book collection and a Darwinian laboratory at the same time. In fact, Crowder's intention is to frame his pieces in a historical, 19th-century museum setting — hence, the transformation of Wade Wilson Art into a dark, cozy nook. Those deep burgundy curtains reveal a faux bookshelf that's actually wallpaper pasted onto the walls. In the center of the installation and on its walls are a "19th-century collector's cabinet of curiosities," according to reception programs, containing hundreds of glass butterflies. They are par for the course for Crowder, who regularly uses "frail" objects such as chocolate and sugar for his mixed-media artwork. By framing a set of books and butterflies in and among dark burgundy curtains and mahogany cabinets, "Mariposa mori" arouses a mood of intelligence and luxury. The dark color scheme and the enclosed installation also invoke a mood similar to that of the butterflies before flight. It's common knowledge that butterflies spend a portion of time in cocoons before emerging. Likewise, by walking inside of "Mariposa mori," visitors immerse themselves in a cocoon filled with books and butterflies — the latter, it is assumed, meant as inspiration. When they leave, they too are butterflies, only their wings are the intelligence they gleaned while soaking up those books. It's very hard to define what's "Retro" about the pieces outside of the installation; like "Mariposa mori," they are also mixed-media and made up of frail objects. A Sense of History Reprise (Oval Painting) and A Sense of History Reprise 2 (Large Painting) look like porcelain dinnerware, but are actually made from the same pâte de verre used to create the butterflies. Pâte de verre is found on other pieces as well, and the outside also makes use of the burgundy color theme; painting the walls in dark red emphasizes the hanging pieces, which are done in hues of ivory, burgundy or mahogany. The dash connecting "Retro-spectacle" is more than mere decoration, then; it is a line that connects Crowder's past work to his present. Through October 25. 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299. — AO

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