- The work of Jess Wheelock is on view at the Brandt Gallery through February 11.
Group Show -- Bella Dubby's small exhibit of local works may be the young gallery's finest to date. Kate Schneider's large, socially conscious color photos are the most affecting: In particular, the moment she captures with "Prayer in Kosovo" -- a crowd of tired, weatherbeaten old men huddled in public prayer, their palms cupped before them in gestures of dire need -- is positively stunning. Josh Foster's voice is more personal, but it's just as compelling. Rather than a pencil's versions of gray, he uses a palette of colorful pastels to shade his drawings of women. But garish they aren't: Green, yellow, and red combine in "Sunshine in April" to suggest extremely bright light -- so bright, in fact, that they transform the pretty, smiling girl bathed in it into an angelic being. Bethany Browning's close-up photographs of glass objects lack consistency, but she's onto something lasting with "Sound Pool," a bowl of water with blue marbles so rich in color, the whole thing looks like some magical communication device. Technically accomplished, with a dark surreal streak, oil painter Joseph Close is responsible for this show's most unique entries, including "Vessel," a scene depicting human figures melting into a river as viewed through a tunnel. This one alone could keep a discussion rolling for hours. Through January 31 at Bela Dubby, 13321 Madison Ave., Lakewood, 216-221-4479. -- Zachary Lewis
New Work by the Old & Defeated -- Historical and literary figures fallen from glory are the focus of this small, tightly knit show by Cleveland Institute of Art student Jess Wheelock. Problem is, it's not always clear why their various downfalls require artistic development. Wheelock is at her best with Shakespeare: A series of cartoonlike, pencil-and-beeswax panels titled "Howl, Howl, Howl, Howl" portray the decline of King Lear, who, addressing his own inner tyrant, starts to rant in a dignified way; he ends up a shriveled, shrunken thing, begging for help. Ophelia turns up as a blurry-faced, misshapen fetus made of copper, multiple versions of which hang in small bags of water on the wall. It's powerful commentary on one of fiction's most tragic figures, a girl dead practically before her life began. In a set of yellowed drawings suggestive of daguerreotypes, Wheelock humorously reveals a pitifully drunk Annie Oakley and a lonely James Buchanan. She goes a bit too far, however, with Mary Todd Lincoln, who became mentally ill after her husband's murder. Wheelock constructs a hand-drawn, cloth-and-paper figurine, gives her a paper Walkman, and places her on a model hillside with trees. The label to "Mary Todd Lincoln, Somewhere in the Forests of Illinois" says she's having a "meaningless epiphany" while the attached CD plays the Beatles' "A Day in the Life." Presumably we are to contemplate the contrast between this episode and Lincoln's historical stature, but unfortunately, the piece comes off more like a posthumous insult. Through February 11 at Brandt Gallery, 1028 Kenilworth Ave., 216-621-1610, www.brandtgallery.org. -- Lewis
Growing Up -- More an environment than an exhibit, this cohesive little show by Cleveland Institute of Art student Brooke Inman immerses visitors in the past while inviting them to examine the present and future from that perspective. A 10-year-old might have created Inman's pictures of her childhood home -- and she wants us to imagine that one did, even though the black-and-white images are actually detailed prints made to resemble old photographs. This is also the case with a series of self-portraits, which depict Inman as resolutely cheerful, despite braces and bad hair, during some awkward, prepubescent phase. More affecting is Inman-as-a-child dreaming, on paper, of her future home, a perfect suburban dwelling complete with basketball court. She even pays tribute to fort-building, that quintessential childhood pastime, with a carpeted nook formed from an overturned sofa. Inside are two artist books with copies of the prints on the walls, turning the fort into a sort of study. The real coup de grace, though, is right in the front window: a walled-off section of the room that appears to be stuffed from floor to ceiling with old toys, a child's hidden stash. Adult artists reverting to childhood can grow tiresome quickly, but Inman's show is too small for that. It manages to prompt reflection on significant questions about what we decide to discard, gain, and hold onto as we age. Through January 21 at Raw & Co Gallery, 1009 Kenilworth Ave., 216-781-2211, www.rawandcogallery.com. -- Lewis
I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night -- Thank the Cleveland Institute of Art for this amply stocked show, for which students produced each piece during a recent studio class. Given the wide-ranging results, it's clear nobody found the theme confining. Kyle Moore's small ceramic beds, displayed on an antique bed frame, are particularly compelling in their portrayal of various nightmarish possibilities. There's the fear of vaporization in "Where We Once Were," in which a bed is burned, atom-bomblike, with only shadows of humans left behind; but just as disturbing is the fear of simple abandonment, shown in an empty bed called "White, Lonely Sleep State." Kate Kisicki's series of "Storm" paintings are surprisingly dissimilar; the best of them exude the majestic turbulence of a tidal-wave print by Hokusai. Justin Martin's set of envelopes labeled "good," "bad," and "ugly" are surreally amusing theatrical scenarios on paper, but it's his "It Wasn't All in My Head" that's among the show's most purely artistic entries: a pencil-drawn flow chart of his mental activity one evening in 2003. That night, Martin really did have too much to dream. Through January 14 at E. Gordon Gallery, 2026 Murray Hill Road, 216-795-0971, www.egordongallery.com. -- Lewis
Thomas Frontini -- Convivium 33, a new gallery housed in an overhauled Catholic church, is an enormous artwork unto itself, with its high arched ceilings, intricately carved woodwork, and raised altar. It's also huge, with wall space sufficient for major shows and gathering room enough for a small cavalry. Its inaugural exhibit features the equally distinctive paintings of Cleveland Heights artist Thomas Frontini. Complex, poignant, humorous, and wildly allusive, Frontini's work harks loudly back to the Renaissance, when cherubs, angels, and other mythical creatures were prime painterly subjects; but he also keeps one foot planted firmly in the 21st century -- Hummers and airplanes are everywhere. His flat, mural-like pieces center around human subjects, which are often dwarfed by timeless landscapes and the animals, both real and imaginary, that inhabit them. Frontini's imagination is breathtaking, his interests vast. Juxtaposing old artistic clichés with modern reality is his best trick, exemplified in "Bold Future," in which two centaurs play badminton near nuclear towers. Best of all, he has a sense of humor, and he doesn't spare himself: In "Birth of the Great Balladeer," a young man with a guitar (Frontini as a teenager?) stands proudly, like Botticelli's "Venus," on a clam shell, this one supported by mermaids. We should be glad he went into art instead. Through January 29 at Convivium 33, 1433 E. 33rd St., 216-881-7328, www.josaphatartshall.com. -- Lewis