Arts » Visual Art

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

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Life Studies -- Instead of mere paper, Hudson artist Peggy Kwong-Gordon creates her cohesive, spiritually grounded drawings on manila fiber, vellum, and pressed wool -- natural and intrinsically beautiful substances that symbolize her Chinese heritage and Taoist philosophy. By way of subject, take your pick as to what's the most honest. Maybe it's the self-portrait, in which pencil-drawn Chinese characters outline the central figure against a backdrop of English text; what better way to represent the Chinese American soul? Then there are the "Visual Glossary" pictures: large, single-frame images of Chinese characters on wool paper that just happen to look like the concepts they represent (the word "Tao," for example, is defined as a "gateway" and resembles an open door). But not everything operates on such a high intellectual level. Youthful joy oozes from a long set of loose, improvisational gouache drawings called "Writing Happiness." Each is a composition in perfect, weightless balance: a single squiggly white line (perhaps an unraveled Chinese character) against a primary-color background. With "Shards," though, Kwong-Gordon points most profoundly to her union of text and soul. She makes a paper mold of her own body, draws Chinese characters on it, and attaches pieces (hands, bust, rear end) to the wall, linking them with faint pencil lines. Again, the material itself is of primary aesthetic interest. Where others might have used simple plaster or newsprint, she uses Lokta paper, a fiber formed from a rare bush in the Himalayas. Through May 7 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Zachary Lewis

On the Wall -- The works of the eight artists in this unique show were created directly on the walls, fresco-style. Many, like George Mauersberger's "Hed06," will be a shame to lose come closing time. Using charcoal and pastels, Mauersberger drew a large and stunningly lifelike picture of a man resting his head; his thick pink cheeks droop with great gravity toward an invisible surface, while light forms pockets of shadow in his wrinkles. Likewise for Ed Pepera's wall-sized charcoal drawing, "Who's Going to Watch You Disappear?": Waiflike figures stick out their hands as if pleading for food, the edges of their bodies fading ghostlike into the white background; in what is perhaps a comparison of Third World starvation to outright murder, Pepera places next to them a robed man displaying a severed head. Sol Lewitt, meanwhile, probably isn't too concerned about preservation, nor should we be: His "Wall Drawing #809-A" is an art-instruction work producing a shiny black circle inside in a matte black square; but his point -- about art as process, as opposed to final product -- is simply no longer useful. Guaranteed to survive are three hand-drawn, black-and-white short films by William Kentridge, which together tell the story of a man who attempts to put a not-so-pleasant past behind him. Multiple viewings are not only deserved in this case; they're required. Through March 11 at the Cleveland State University Art Gallery, 2307 Chester Ave., 216-687-2103, www.csuohio.edu/art/gallery. -- Lewis

The Persistence of Conscience -- Lilian Tyrrell's career spans 30 years, yet this exhibition marks the Ravenna artist's first local retrospective. That's not surprising -- many institutions avoid violence and politics, two of the major themes here. Spaces, however, commits its main gallery to her immense tapestries, most of which depict war, terrorism, and environmental horrors in blunt style. All are masterful works in thread that powerfully contradict the craft's traditional docility. The earlier works -- landscapes and studies of perspective from the late '70s and early '80s -- are more inviting and easier to take. A peak during this comparatively naive period is "China Sky," a turbulent wool-and-linen composition envisioning a cloud pattern in a storm. Moving forward in time, the intensity of the buttons Tyrrell pushes gradually increases. Tragic airplane accidents, oil fires, and chilling missile launches are mild compared to "Abandoned Heroes," a gruesome tapestry showing a dead soldier lying on his back, or the bleeding elephant corpse in "Tusk for Trinkets." The quality of work never lapses; Tyrrell's gift for capturing billowing smoke and fire with her loom approaches genius. Eventually, though, she goes too far, engaging in pure emotional manipulation with "Falling Man," a close-up on someone tumbling out of the Twin Towers. Even those sympathetic to Tyrrell's messages are apt to find their consciences drawing the line here. Through March 10 at Spaces, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314, www.spacesgallery.org. -- Lewis

ONGOING

All Digital -- Still lobbying for separation of art and computers? This exhibit will counter your most defiant belief in the primacy of traditional media. Just try to experience John Simon's work without wonder, let alone brush past it quickly. His "Endless Victory" has all the color of a Mondrian painting, though it consists only of a rimless laptop screen, its surface constantly in motion with tiny dots moving antlike along ever-shifting paths. The most elaborate of Simon's many entries, "Victory" is also the only one that appears to spin on multiple axes; painters have executed some fancy tricks over the centuries, but nothing like this. In Leo Villareal's "Instances," three black screens covered in tiny white lights display a sequence that looks and even sounds like fireworks; it may not be the grandest technological achievement here, but it's magical nonetheless. Still not convinced? Walk into the room where Charles Sandison has set up cameras displaying the complete text of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. Typewritten words skitter randomly over dark walls, forming meaningless phrases that exist for only a few seconds. Imagine refrigerator-magnet poetry, only many times larger and operated by some divine, invisible force you experience physically rather than just visually. Through May 7 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Lewis

Cavalcade of Oddballs -- Matt Dibble's reputation rests primarily on his paintings, but his drawings, exhibited here for the first time, deserve equal attention. Credit the Studio of Five Rings -- an unusual new downtown gallery that doubles as a winery and martial-arts school -- for introducing us to them. While his paintings tend toward bold, large, colorful abstracts in oil, Dibble's drawings are black-and-white, introspective, and at least partially figural. They're also smaller -- about the size of a sheet of paper -- but their concentrated feel and nearly perfect sense of composition make them seem expansive. Shapes, animal-like figures, and fragments of human faces intertwine in several perspectives simultaneously in a loose, cubist manner that evokes Picasso. Given the ink's light, confident application, though, the drawings also have the air of Chinese brush paintings. Even Surrealism makes an appearance in the masklike faces and the limp stitching pattern Dibble occasionally employs. Unfortunately, vague titles like "Pointy Idiot" and "Taller Every Second" represent various aspects of Dibble's personality and psychological makeup, rather than providing any clues about the pieces themselves. Judging by the selections, Dibble is a profound, complex soul whose work is well worth getting to know. Through March 4 at the Studio of Five Rings, 2400 Superior Ave., Ste. 201, 216-771-0830, www.studioof5rings.com. -- Lewis

Drawn, Exposed, and Impressed -- The first in a series of shows presented by the art museum at the Museum of Contemporary Art, this small collection of recent works on paper covers vast aesthetic territory efficiently and attractively. Among the drawings is an unforgettable charcoal view of Cleveland's lakeshore by Laurence Channing, as well as Chuck Close's portrait of a young, wild-haired Philip Glass (titled "Phil Spitbite"), composed of Close's trademark tiny squares and shaded circles. Tops in the "exposed" category are Spencer Tunick's "Ohio 4," photographic evidence that hundreds of Clevelanders really did get naked outdoors one chilly morning in 2004, and Bert Teunissen's "Nuit St. Georges #8," an inkjet photo of a woman posed in an elegant sitting room, which rivals the subtlety of any Dutch master's still life. Printmaker Neil Welliver spared no pain to create "Stump," a multicolored woodcut print crawling with moss, ferns, and shoots. By contrast, black and white are all Richard Serra needs in "IV Hreppholar" (a city in Iceland), an etching made with a thickly scarred slab of basalt. The piece resembles a dried patch of tar, and you may find yourself entranced by the beating it's seemingly endured. Through May 7 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-7340, www.clevelandart.org. -- Lewis

The Historic Kirtland Toy Show -- Now 99, Viktor Schreckengost boasts an amazingly diverse résumé, to say nothing of his artistic pedigree. The founding father of industrial design in Cleveland, he started out as a celebrated ceramist, but also fashioned one of the first cab-over-engine trucks and developed radar object recognition for the military. Perhaps surpassing it all are Schreckengost's joyous toy designs -- in particular, his pedal cars. In 1938, when Murray Manufacturing Co. asked him to find a use for its surplus steel, he hastily designed a sleek 25-inch toy locomotive that launched a 34-year career. Always keeping the child's desires foremost, he created pedal toys -- police cars, ice cream trucks, airplanes -- that were as ergonomically sound as they were elegant, characteristics he later encouraged as an instructor. (Among his achievements: adding the first ball-joints to toy wagons, allowing them to safely turn rather than tip.) This retrotastic show invites us to share in Schreckengost's work from the 1930s to '50s. Among almost 20 objects on display, a silver-and-red Murray Pursuit Plane (1940s) is a standout, still evoking a childlike desire to soar through the air. Pieces for the exhibition are culled from the collection of Larry Waldman, owner of the online vintage-toy resource Cybertoyz. Through February 20 at the Historic Kirtland Visitors' Center, 7800 Kirtland-Chardon Rd., Kirtland, 866-584-9805. -- Tami Miller

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

Tetherball Madness -- Jay Croft and Brett Holzworth, the two Akron artists featured in this quirky little exhibit, have friendship, humor, and stylistic traits in common, but they're hardly carbon copies of one another. Comparing their paintings and drawings on wood is the show's main draw. Croft, who seems to come straight from the world of underground comic books and alternative cartoons, is the more deliberately crude of the two: In his works, ugly, pitiful creatures and people, drawn on thick pieces of painted wood, express strange thoughts and engage in even stranger activities; in one, a miserable-looking guy, eyes downcast, walks away from an old car, muttering "Fucking automobile" under his breath, with palpable bitterness. Holzworth's creations are bigger and more lovable: Each of his 18 sluglike "Huggable Henchmen" gets its own large, bare-wood panel, nickname, and oversized personality. Among them are "Stilts," a lanky basketball player, and "Killa Cal," a bling-wearing rapper. Oddly, the blobby green oaf grabbing his yellow-stained crotch in "Leaky Wiener" is as cuddly as Winnie the Pooh. Fun as Holzworth's Henchmen are, he strikes gold in an altogether different vein: "Burberian," an enraged Viking painted on a girly pink-diamond pattern, could be the best artistic representation of consumerism in existence. Through February 3 at Inside-Outside Gallery, 2688 West 14th St., 216-623-8510, www.fjkluth.com/inside. -- Lewis

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