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"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

"Nice. Luc Tuymans" With "Nice. Luc Tuymans," the painter of the same name uses his enduring style — realism — in portraiture. Tuymans has been painting portraits of himself, family members and public figures since the start of his career in the 1970s, but these are no ordinary faces. With the famous figures particularly, Tuymans uses his oils to re-examine feelings about these people. He muddies greens into colors of puce and washes out blacks into gray-scale hues, the combination of which leaves an ambivalent or even negative feeling about the person being portrayed. The Heritage VI (1996) takes a photograph of late white supremacist Joseph Milteer, whose name was tossed around in connection the JFK assassination, and turns it into a black-and-gray portrait adding Tuymans's signature ghoulish green tint to the oil-on-canvas remake of the original black-and-white photograph. He does the same with a picture of Condoleezza Rice (The Secretary of State 2005), his blurry oils turning her signature scowl into a mush-mouthed, mismatched miasma of drab colors. Brown oil pools into the corners of her squinted eyes, and her notable red lips are painted in a burnished burgundy shade. Milteer's portrait provides a wide politician's smile in comparison to Rice's, whose lips are slightly parted, barely letting through her other notable feature, her gap. Iphone (2008) is a self-portrait of Tuymans, drawn to turn him into a smudge, made so by the flash of the camera. Thus, he is nothing more than an outline of a man in a hat. As with a person you pass on the street, his facial features are not visible. With his ease at making the features of the other characters so visible and his not, is he removing critique of himself from the viewer? Through January 5. The Menil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross, 713-524-9400. — AO

"Rachel Hecker: Group Show" The massive foam finger isn't even the strangest thing you see in this exhibition. Nor is the snowman, the twirling bottle of Xanax or the huge ear stuffed with a cotton ball. Indeed, the most curious thing in "Rachel Hecker: Group Show," Hecker's new exhibit at Art League Houston, is a pile of jumping peanuts atop a white column. The Peanuts (2013), which are actual edible legumes, are attached to motorized magnets, causing them to jerk and jump around at random intervals. It is these Peanuts, in their abject randomness, that define the entire exhibition, a collection of 18 sculptures and paintings that sit and hang throughout the gallery in no particular order. Yes, it is odd. But as Hecker explains, "I want to give myself more permission to do whatever occurs to me without reservation." As for the Peanuts: "I like things that are animated that shouldn't be animated." Hecker is an artist who defies artistic authority. Though her main medium is large-scale painting, she "deplores" the rigidity of it. And so, while creating series such as notes-lists 1, paintings of handwritten grocery and to-do lists, she would create odd, figurative sculptures as the ideas struck her. "Group Show" collects these off-ramp oeuvres and puts them into Art League's Main Gallery. Altogether, "Group Show" looks like the shambles of a mental meltdown. Next to the bottle of Floating Xanax is The Ear That Cannot Hear (2006), which gets a corner to itself. As it sticks to the wall, the "cotton ball" made of EPS foam sits inside its canal, so while you're doped up on meds, your auditory senses are suspended as well. The lean pink skin of Finger Statue (2013) features a freshly manicured nail on the front, a stamped happy face on back. The hanging Peppermint Air Freshener (2006) is actually wood cut into an exponentially larger model of a car air freshener, then lacquered in a red so bright that you almost catch a whiff of its advertised candy-sweet smell as it swings from the gallery ceiling — even if your thoughts are fuzzy and your ears are blocked, you can still smell. Again, odd. Prudent guests would avoid this madness, mind the Caution Cuidado (2013), the acrylic on canvas re-creation of police tape, step over the rabbit hole, and forgo the topsy-turvy world of mechanics and medicine bottles in favor of a more conventional art experience. Hecker, however — the Artist in Wonderland — jumps in fearlessly, tearing past the warning tape into a world with no limits and no rigidity — and it pays off. "Group Show" is fun and exciting, a departure from restrictive canvases of straight lines and plain colors. And that's exactly what she wants. Through November 15. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — AO

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