"CTRL group two" Collage photography is having a bit of a moment right now in Houston, thanks to a major exhibition up at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston called "Utopia/Dystopia." For a much smaller show that still manages to cover a lot of ground, there's also "CTRL group two" at Bryan Miller Gallery, which displays an impressive variety among its seven artists. Among them, Javier Piñon's works stands out the most. It's no coincidence that one of his three collages (The Pact) is the first you see upon entering the gallery. It is a dense nature scene that contains its own mythology. A pale, naked woman is stretched out over rocks, a dagger in her hand, while a dead rabbit lies beside her. A fox stumbles across the scene, as a skull floats in a nearby river. It's oddly compelling, and will leave you puzzling over what it all means. Heimir Björgúlfsson also works with nature themes, juxtaposing unlikely elements in conventional scenery shots. In This ain't the first rodeo, a snowy, tree-lined slope is overlaid with out-of-proportion planks of weathered wood and a patch of rocks. His nature shots don't seem so natural after all. All the works display a degree of intimacy, though none more so than Matthew Stone's — in a more literal sense of the word. His Polymorphic Love Diagram Unfolds features sculptural photo-collages of intertwined bodies on wood, which bends and contorts like the bodies do. The prints look like classical paintings, with the naked men and women warmly yet sharply lit against black backgrounds. They are quite beautiful. Through May 19. 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. — MD
"Elixir" Upon first look, John Adelman's ink drawings up at DARKE Gallery don't look like much to make — messy squiggles, cascading white scratches, quick and efficient dashes on canvas. You could just stop there and move on, but that would be missing everything. Adelman's works are all about the process. Those messy squiggles are words pulled one by one from the dictionary, written out over and over again until they turn the canvas blue. Those cascading white scratches are nails, thousands of them, translated to paper. And those efficient dashes are pieces of straw, meticulously, maddeningly traced into a black-and-white reproduction. When you hear it like that, it sounds like you might have wandered onto the set of A Beautiful Mind. Indeed, Adelman has spent hours upon hours with his nail piles and bales of straw, creating his drawings the hard way. With this obsessive method and use of unconventional materials, his works could be easily dismissed or, to go the other way, hyped and overly simplified (he paints nails and straw!), if it weren't for the understated beauty in the resulting pieces. The DARKE exhibition, titled "Elixir," is the first solo show of the Houston artist. It's long overdue. Adelman sets himself apart thanks to his unconventional materials and seemingly insane process. In other hands, the works could have been written off as too gimmicky, but in his, they are mysterious and enthralling. Through May 5. 320 Detering St., 713-542-3802. — MD
"Neurotic" Over a film career spanning 40 years, John Waters has managed to simultaneously offend and entertain his audience. His art, it turns out, is no different. This show at McClain Gallery includes conceptual works by the Pink Flamingos director made between 1993 and 2009 that comment on film, writing, sex, humor, and, yes, neuroses — it's a glimpse inside Waters's twisted, transgressive bald head. The bulk of the show is comprised of these visual storyboards — movie stills Waters took with a camera and grouped by a highly specific, highly dark theme. There are images of plane crashes, people puking, drug use — he tries to make you cringe, then laugh, then question both reactions. In other, less shocking montages, Waters had some fun with Photoshop. In Product Placement, he adds some unfamiliar items to famous movie moments (in one humorous scene, Charlton Heston's Moses clutches The Ten Commandments in one hand, a bottle of Tilex in the other). Though all made within the past 15 years, these series have this throwback 1980s New York art school vibe that Waters seems to embody. On the non-photography side, Waters fills the gallery with quirky surprises that are also highly personal works. There's his larger-than-life replica of a La Mer jar — a long-time favorite of the artist's — minus the actual lotion (if he did fill it with the pricey stuff, the jar would have a price tag upwards of $200,000). For some inside art world humor, there's Visit Marfa, a satirical advertisement for the minimalist art capital of Texas. The poster highlights such attractions as "Eat food all the same color," "Pretend to see the 'Marfa Lights,'" "It's a l-o-o-o-o-n-g drive!" You get the idea. It's one of the few insidery pieces in an otherwise highly accessible show. Through April 28. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — MD
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"Space Zombie Mayan Apocalyptic Human Sacrifice Uplift Mofo Party Plan Spring Break 2012" Kallinen Contemporary is off the beaten path in the Far East End. Despite the odd location and crazy title, this show managed to draw a big crowd — between 300 and 400 people — during its opening night last month, testament to the strength of some of the impressive names involved. Paul Horn, Solomon Kane and John Paul Hartman joined forces with Randall Kallinen, a civil rights attorney by day, artist and now gallery owner by night, to put on the party. And among works by more than 20 artists on display, there's also Kelley Devine with her antler-sporting nudes, light installation artist Ariane Roesch and Pop-Art devotee Dandee Warhol. There are more than 100 pieces to take in, filling every inch of the two-story warehouse space — including an aerosol painting on the outside brick by GONZO247 painted opening night. Gian Palacios-Swiatkowski stands out among the painters — his portraits of women beautiful and arresting. Camargo Valentino's paintings are also showstoppers in a sense, including a black-and-white portrait of Emiliano Zapata Salazar. The Mexican revolutionary is done in incredible detail, while his followers behind him are out of focus — it's almost photographic. William Reid's minimal works — rectangles of color, surrounded by circles of scorched canvas — are nothing new, but still seem radical and bold. Above it all sits Eduardo Portillo's giant puppet-like Gonzo the Clown, perched on the second story in all its creepy glory. Hours by appointment, through May 28. 511 Broadway, 713-320-3785. — MD