Arts » Visual Art

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

The photos of Catherine Opie are on view at MOCA through - December.
  • The photos of Catherine Opie are on view at MOCA through December.

NEW

Catherine Opie -- Heavy doses of reality charge this ample two-part photo exhibition. The newer half, "In and Around Home," journalistically chronicles the tumultuous political, religious, and social scene in the artist's Los Angeles neighborhood, while the second, "1999," effectively captures the bizarre millennial anxiety that today seems almost quaint. The older pictures are stronger emotionally: eerily empty carnivals and factories, small-town stores, and gathering places seemingly left to rot. Atmospheres of fear, stillness, and decay predominate, as if humanity had forgone joy and order, and were simply abandoning ship. An untitled image depicting the "Old Timers Social and Pleasure Club" is a particularly sad case: All that remains of a once-dignified establishment is a decrepit building strewn with garbage. Opie also touches on environmental themes, mourning natural innocence in photos of slime-covered streams and pristine expanses tarnished by ugly development. But 1999 is practically idyllic next to the angry, divided, media-saturated America of today. In "In and Around Home," the tension is both deeper and more public in images of rallies pro- and anti-Bush, sports fanaticism, protest groups on the march, and omnipresent signs of religious devotion. Members of one family are seen trashing their television, as if they've had enough news. Once again, though, contrast is Opie's most powerful tool. Two large photos of the same cloud-covered sky differ on just one account: One contains a rainbow-colored kite, the other a menacing helicopter. Somehow, that says it all. Through December 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., $4, 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Zachary Lewis

Dana Schutz -- Just six years after graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art, New York painter Dana Schutz is back for the royal treatment -- and she deserves it. Robustly individual, intelligent, and equal parts shocking, grotesque, and humorous, Schutz's work unquestionably merits wider attention. There's no mistaking her style: colors hovering around gaudy, technique that's visceral and willfully primitive, absurd or impossible scenarios, thick globs of paint protruding into three dimensions. This is unique stuff that leaps off the wall and appeals on deep gut levels. Eighteen large paintings from 2002 to 2006 represent Schutz's output fairly well, touching on major themes and a few newer directions. Self-consumption as artistic progress is a key metaphor. In "Self-Eater #3," a distorted, head-heavy woman gnaws on her own leg. Similarly, in "Surgery," a group of doe-eyed women gather around a table to pick apart a human figure, as if playing Operation. Elsewhere, the subjects are rebuilding themselves, selecting new features and limbs from banks of human parts. These are self-contained beings, deriving nourishment from themselves and then regenerating -- much as Schutz does, in work that contains elements of many artistic movements, yet stands independently. Current events supply more lighthearted material while also giving evidence of Schutz's versatility. In "Men's Retreat," business tycoons and politicians stumble blindfolded through the jungle, beating drums and playing trust-building games. This is modern man. Ridiculously tame, domesticated beyond any trace of actual wildness. Through December 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., $4, 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Lewis

ONGOING

Alexander Reyna -- At first blush, these seven large paintings by New Yorker Alexander Reyna evoke the spirit of the '60s, that distinctive blend of giddy oblivion and free-love depravity fueled by political dissatisfaction and fear of nuclear war. In fact, they're significantly more complex -- powerful illustrations of how closely that older era mirrors today's bizarre national mood. Techniques from graffiti art and surrealism heavily inform collages of war planes, missiles, spiraling smoke, flowers, and rainbows. Reyna also ventures into Futurism, indicating a more modern period, throwing Star Wars-like fighter jets and killer droids into the mix. But there's nothing random or impulsive about these paintings. They're all far too balanced, the pieces interlocking too smoothly and seductively to have been painted without forethought. Then there's the racy stuff: Embedded in half the pictures are messages of sexual freedom, in the form of shadowy, faintly drawn women, topless and masturbating. In "Death Star Mother F'er," one of the most striking images, a fleet of World War II planes stands out against a blood-red sky, while bombs trickle out beneath them. That's just the top half. Below all this, Reyna ingeniously connects a drawing of a hip-hop MC, posed like a gangster, into the outline of a woman who lies spread-eagle, fingering herself. It's all just like the world in 2006. Bombs are flying and people are dying, and there's nothing else to do but pump it up and get it on. Through October 7 at Miller-Weitzel Gallery, Parish Hall, 6205 Detroit Ave., 216-939-9099, www.millerweitzelgallery.com. -- Lewis

Darice Polo -- These images by Clevelander Darice Polo look so much like old black-and-white family photos that it's hard to believe they're actually recent works. Only upon close inspection -- nose against the glass -- is their true magnificence revealed. They're actually drawings -- film stills transformed with painstaking care into pencil-and-paper (or oil paint) masterpieces, complete with historic blemishes; the effort involved explains why there are so few of them. And while nothing says the subjects are members of Polo's family, the drawings evince so much love and pride that it's impossible to assume otherwise. Particularly moving are the variations in clarity and what they imply. A large pencil drawing titled "Fela's Visit, 1952" shows a group of women cooing over a baby. All the details are there, textures particularly: a flannel blanket, dress fabrics, a painted wood cabinet, the baby's peach-fuzz hair. Yet the faces are blurry; the most valuable element is omitted. By contrast, "Theresa, 1948," another graphite drawing, is in amazingly sharp, pointillistic focus, suggesting that Polo (or whoever holds the memory) took great care in preserving this mental picture. It shows a young, well-dressed black woman, who smilingly waits on a train platform amid businessmen. Perhaps she was traveling to a job interview or happy social event. In any case, she was probably far ahead of her time in the segregated, chauvinistic 1940s and '50s, and the image resounds with her pride. Through October 8 at Raw & Co Gallery, 1009 Kenilworth Ave., 216-235-0635, www.rawandcogallery.com. -- Lewis

Degrees of Frank -- Twelve artists pool their talents in sculpture and video installation to honor Frank Green, a Cleveland performance artist, art critic, and all-around creative personality suffering from HIV and long-term memory loss. Unfortunately, noble intentions don't always add up to quality. One goal is to diminish the effects of memory loss by evoking or creating artistic memories Green may already have lost or would appreciate. These pieces are generally head-scratchers: cerebral, abstract, and personal, exclusive to the inner circle. Punning on Green's first name, a second group more successfully explores serious issues in quests of honest, unfiltered self-examination. Nancy Prudic's "Fear" sets up an imaginative process wherein viewers confront themselves as their own worst enemy. Dangling from this black paint-coated mirror are three scraping tools, to be used as pens for answering her question What are you afraid of? Eventually, in theory, less and less will obscure pure reflection, as viewers scrape away their answers. Only Michael Loderstedt's "Frank Thinking" provides a tangible sense of Green's identity. This long, vertical black scroll bears a picture of a gray, stone-like slab. Atop it is a patch of temperate brown and green, encasing a smaller area of bright yellow-orange, like an active brain-scan image. If this is a portrait of Green the critic, here's a man of intense concentration and solid opinions. Couldn't ask for a better tribute. Through October 21 at Arts Collinwood Gallery, 15605 Waterloo Rd., 216-692-9500, www.artscollinwood.org. -- Lewis

Miscellaneous Debris -- You've probably never bothered to look closely at a late-night TV test pattern, but it's actually an impressive study in contrasts, as one of these quirky creations by Clevelander Dana Depew demonstrates. Though steeped in pop art, Depew's work transcends pop's rather narrow boundaries with keen observation, humor, and unusual materials rich in associated meaning. For each piece, he removes stripe symbols from their original contexts in business, sports, politics, and entertainment, and transforms them into full-scale paintings. Thus excerpted, they become strangely unfamiliar and invite fresh appreciation. Depew scores his deepest hits when the medium comments on the subject, as in "Terror Alert Chart," a large rendering of Homeland Security's color-coded warning system. He paints solid horizontal bands on threadbare burlap, implying the concept itself is weak and nearly useless. Encyclopedic notes accompany many images, piling on trivial details and compounding the magnificence of the mundane. A lengthy etymology of stockings is the perfect complement to the already absurdly enchanting "Hanes Tube Socks," which all but envisions socks as historical treasures. Painting three faint stripes apiece on a few vertical sections of nubby chenille fabric, Depew mimics the exact look and feel of worn-out footwear. They may not be priceless relics, but they're certainly something to behold. Through October 7 at Asterisk Gallery, 2393 Professor Ave., 330-304-8528, www.asteriskgallery.com. -- Lewis

Street Repairs -- Art can't solve the world's problems, but it can get things moving in the right direction. Thus it is with this high-minded group exhibition devoted to urban ills. Though the solutions presented are neither realistic nor thorough, such fresh, lucid perspectives on city life must be counted an unqualified good. An artist called Poke combines painterly talent with a simple but revolutionary idea for bettering the world. "The Knight Owl," a massive, virtuoso graffiti signature spread over wall and floor, invites close inspection of an art form frequently viewed from afar, from the safety of a passing train or car. At the same time, it pleads a rather powerful case for enlightenment: Give up viewing spray-painting as vandalism, and suddenly graffiti transforms into a most welcome adornment. Jake Beckman's "Urban Core Samples" likewise serves dual ends, though it's never clear what specific problem it addresses. These smooth-topped chunks of asphalt, dirt, piping, and concrete do more than expose the strangely complex, multilayered world beneath our feet; they also suggest that our city's core is filthy, like Hamlet's rotten Denmark. But Mark Riegelman's "Home Sweet Home" represents the most creative, if impractical, upgrade to urban infrastructure. Rather than drab waiting pens, he imagines bus stops as cozy, wallpapered living rooms, complete with chairs, lamps, books, and warm beverages. Imagine how society would benefit from so many calmed nerves. Through October 20 at SPACES, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314, www.spacesgallery.org. -- Lewis

Van Duzer Perspective -- Clarence Van Duzer is best known for his "Global Flight" sculpture at Hopkins Airport, but the public art by this 86-year-old local legend represents just one area of his expertise. Not only is this collection of recent paintings well stocked; it's also stylistically diverse, revealing immense creativity and productivity -- a testament to Van Duzer's unique, restless, and dynamic vision as an abstract painter. In the forceful picture "Festival," three large panels barely contain a chaotic cloud of reds, pinks, blues, and shocking white, rapidly applied in tiny fan-shaped patterns. Van Duzer's inspiration is clear: With a little imagination, the fantastic series becomes a time-lapse still -- a long, painted exposure of an active, brightly dressed parade. It's stunning. An altogether different thread consists of drip-style paintings on wrinkled canvases. Van Duzer calls them "Mountain Landscapes," presumably because they resemble relief maps. The peak here is "Series IV," a long, horizontal expanse of white, thoughtfully laced with ribbons of chocolate brown. The colors and gestures alone are worth savoring, but the image might also be an iceberg cracking or mounds of rock and snow, viewed from a perilous perch. These questions almost don't matter. As with any great abstraction, the only thing not open to interpretation is the brilliant figure behind it. Through October 15 at Convivium33 Gallery, 1433 East 33rd St., 216-881-7838, www.josaphatartshall.com. -- Lewis

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