15 Best Pieces of the 2012 Texas Contemporary Art Fair

"I assume you don't want me in the picture," a man said to me as I stood extra still, in position to release my camera's shutter to photograph one of the pieces at the Texas Contemporary Art Fair. He had clearly stopped himself in his tracks so as not to enter my camera's frame. I snapped the photo, put my camera down and greeted the man with my eyes. "I never said I didn't want you in the picture," I answered. Eyebrow raised, the older gentleman stared at me for a moment, then broke out suddenly into an exaggerated theatrical pose. "Okay, well take a photo of me now," he said -- his position intact. "It could be considered contemporary art, you never know," he added, knowingly. He resumed normal position, we shared a laugh and the stranger walked off.

Two seconds later, I asked myself why I had laughed. The man's little impromptu act and accompanying comment had actually successfully highlighted the common conception that, in contemporary art, anything goes. It is precisely this defining factor -- the "anything can be art" idea -- that is simultaneously contemporary art's greatest quality and biggest downfall.

It's this odd characteristic that had me expecting jars full of toenail clippings, murals made of colorful, already chewed gum, and portraits made of eraser dust as I entered the 2012 Texas Contemporary Art Fair, held at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Fortunately, I encountered no such works. Instead, I found an extremely vast collection of modern, pleasant-to-look-at, thought-provoking and emotion-instigating pieces, 99 percent of which I thoroughly enjoyed, all of which made it 100 percent more difficult to choose the crème de la crème.

Here's what I found to be the 15 best pieces of the fair, after hours upon hours of delightful, engaging browsing:

15. Untitled by Peter Opheim A quick Google search of this artist reveals that he has many more quirky and fun animal paintings, all of which seemingly depict animals crafted from modeling clay. Because life is too short to take ourselves too seriously.

14. Booth: Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Performing Arts at University of Houston While this "exhibit" was not technically one of the pieces on display at the fair, it could and should have been included. A man sat in a chair, surrounded by green foliage -- most likely an homage to The Woodlands, the home of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion -- and played off-tune notes, some long, some short. All the while, he seemed to be quite enjoying himself. The message most likely being pushed out, through the scene, as a whole? "Check out the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Performing Arts Center at University of Houston." Bravo, marketing whiz. Way to get the point across via art.

13. "Frowhawk Two Feathers" I mean really, does this lady look like she would be the kind to sport some tats? Negative. Just one of the things that make this piece interesting.

12. "Welle" by John O'Reilly There he was. Man's best friend, resting peacefully. I can't even tell you how many people ducked down, as if they wanted to pet him or whistle at him to get his attention and get on a walk. This artwork, made of resin and graphite powder, was appealing because of its realistic qualities and the instant emotional connection it formed within nanoseconds with each passer-by.

11. "The Chicken I Actually Am" by Zhivago Duncan This unique painting drew myself and others in and begged for our attention with its varied, intricate elements.

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Carla Soriano