"Rachel Hecker: Group Show" Defies Artistic Rigidity

The massive foam finger isn't even the strangest thing you see in the 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 exhibition 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 said at the exhibition opening, "I'm getting old, and I can do what the fuck I want."

Days later, setting her curtness aside, she 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."

She has certainly earned the right to do as she pleases. Hecker has been creating art since she "was a kid," Originally from Rhode Island, she moved to Houston in 1982 to help found the Glassell School of Art.The movement has paid off in awards, accolades, a professorship at the University of Houston and the double distinction of Art League Houston exhibitionist and 2013 Texas Artist of the Year.

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.

Even as Hecker espouses the non-linear aspect of this exhibition -- it's an exhibition made up of "anomalies," she said -- the linear still creeps through in the form of partnered pieces, such as "Snowman" (2013) and "Fall Winter Scene" (2013.) The former, a white of three tubby, stacked globs, faces the latter, a warm (despite the cold) holiday scene. The jumping peanuts are paired with "Floating Xanax (2013), a twirling, mechanized bottle of medication.

Altogether, "Group Show" looks like the shambles of a mental meltdown. Next to the bottle of "Floating Xanax," "The Ear that Cannot Hear" (2006) gets a corner to itself. As it sticks to the wall, the "cotton ball" made of EPS foam sticks 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 blocked, you can still smell.

Prudent guests would avoid this madness, mind the "Caution Cuidado" (2013), the acrylic on canvas recreation of police tape, step over the rabbit hole, forgo the topsy-turvy world of mechanics and medicine bottles in favor of a more conventional art experience. Hecker, the Artist in Wonderland, however, jumps fearlessly in, tearing past the warning tape into a world of 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.

"Rachel Hecker: Group Show" will be on view at Art League Houston through November 15. Visit artleaguehouston.org for more information.

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