Arts » Visual Art

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

Legal Aliens is on view at Spaces through March 9.
  • Legal Aliens is on view at Spaces through March 9.
The Great Grid -- Right-brain people are more likely than left-lobers to appreciate these giant new paintings by renowned Clevelander Patricia Zinsmeister Parker. The show's geometrical title notwithstanding, Parker's brand of abstraction appeals primarily on visceral levels, forgoing intellectual depth to overwhelm the senses with shape, color, and sheer size. Standing before "Heads and Tails," a huge grid of curved, painted paper, right- and left-brainers alike will revel in the sea of lime green and black, smeared by a paper-bag relic from Parker's earlier work. They'll also be grateful for the round-edged islands of yellow, white, and turquoise overtop the paper -- visual counterweights that draw attention from the grid's rigidity and break up the monotony of hue. The fierceness in Parker's execution, too, would excite anyone's blood. Ultimately, though, the piece amounts to a study in contrast, and only those who relish subjectivity on a grand scale will surrender to it for long. "Predominantly Yellow" is the show's most distinctive and -- at 41 feet long -- largest entry. Two horizontal rows of curved canvases, one stacked atop the other, alternately undulate, like huge ribbons flapping in the wind. Bright solid colors (only some of which are yellowish) and straight vertical lines mark off distinct rectangular sections. Nothing could be less like the gallery's flat white walls, and the structure's innocent appearance (remember those mats from grade-school gym class?) deftly overshadows its structural complexity. But, like so much else here, the piece's simple ends fail to justify such elaborate means. Through March 3 at Cleveland State University Art Gallery, 2307 Chester Ave., 216-687-2103, -- Zachary Lewis

Legal Aliens -- Among the 12 international artists exploring immigration in this show, only a few make a genuine impact, creatively questioning misconceptions and biases about the state of being foreign. The rest evoke confusion or rely on thin conceptual conceits. But it's hard to quibble with the curators' overall choice of medium. In theory, at least, video is the ideal tool for conveying movement and experience -- the essences of immigration -- and technology only reinforces the issue's urgency and relevance. The two strongest pieces make their points simply, quickly, and without words. Dan Acostioaei's "Essential Current Affairs" depicts a masked man and woman locked in a long, slow kiss. With their heads covered in black cloth, they look like terrorists, but their embrace is one of mutual sensitivity and tenderness. It's a strange, jarring contrast -- one that humanizes even those who would harm us and symbolizes the kinds of irrational divisions standing between otherwise caring people in a culture of paranoia. Sharon Paz's "Wandering Home" is less controversial, but also more universal and no less poignant emotionally. Two layers of video run simultaneously: a time lapse of a small apartment's interior and an ever-changing series of landscapes rushing past the windows outside. It's as if the room were a train, zooming cross-country, eventually returning to its original location. What a succinct, poetic illustration of the theme! Home isn't a fixed place; it goes with you, and its identity changes along the way. Through March 9 at Spaces, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314, -- Lewis

All That Glows Is Glorious -- Move over, leg lamps: Here come window displays that are brighter, louder, and more outrageous. Just as Christmas lights are coming down, Cleveland artist Dana Depew has filled Brandt Gallery with a quirky "site-specific illuminated installation" made up of delightfully hideous chandeliers. Intellectual footholds may be scarce, but these gigantic cylinders retrofitted with lightbulbs, table legs, and outdated fabric are cornucopias for the eyes. And because most hang from the ceiling, they establish a sort of three-dimensional playground with ever-changing vistas. The base of each object is a large fiberglass tank, adorned in paint with Depew's trademark stripes and solid pastels. Additional layers consist of items selectively abducted from 1970s living rooms: clunky sconces and stout wooden table legs, yellow-glass lamps, wrought-iron curlicues, and patches of thinning brown velour. Belts of riveted chrome recall an even earlier era, that of WWII fighter planes and bombs, as do shark-like faces bearing teeth on two horizontal pieces, "Snarvel" and "Babycakes." But electricity is the real focus. Wherever possible, Depew attaches some variety of white or colored bulb (or automobile fog lamp, in one instance), blinking away constantly, emitting warmth both visual and physical. One can't help but think of Christmas decorations -- though another apt analogy is to fishing lures, given each object's manifold parts, perfect balance, and relatively intricate construction. Goofy titles like "Big Bertha" and "Pork Loin" confirm Depew's lack of pretension. Through January 31 at Brandt Gallery, 1028 Kenilworth Ave., 216-621-1610. -- Lewis

Model, Protagonist -- To Jo Nelson, an MFA student at Hunter College in New York, buildings are more than static objects -- they're unique reflections of humanity, and we interact with them profoundly. It's an intriguing hypothesis, but it could use a little more development and defense. Not that what she has here isn't interesting. Nelson keeps things simple and on-message by working with raw materials, rarely using anything other than plain wood, paper, and ink. Her two most insightful pieces, called "Fantasy Machines," draw attention to the many variables affecting our perception of classic structures. Both are wooden contraptions, simulating views of the Empire State Building and its environs and the Statue of Liberty from the perspective of tiny wooden people. In both, the people are on tracks, to be moved any height or distance from the building, and a freestanding light replicates the sun's many possible positions. Photos of the scenes bear a more than passing resemblance to reality, and the faceless mannequins could represent anyone; the potential for variation in mood and viewpoint is practically endless. Ink-and-pencil-drawn sketches for houses and rooms make weak puns on computerized architectural designs, with their eerie transparency and visual cacophony. But with "Timeline," Nelson is back to her strengths. These five house-shaped wooden blocks symbolize five progressive stages of suffering from Hurricane Katrina, from an untouched home to a charred, soaked lump. On one level, they're just houses, but on another, they're reflections of the people who once inhabited them. Through February 24 at the Sculpture Center, 1834 East 123rd St., 216-229-6527, -- Lewis

Out of the Blue -- A bright, cloudless blue sky marred only by a faint white curving contrail. Clevelanders gazing upward on 9-11 might have seen something like that, if it's true that the fourth hijacked plane did indeed turn around over Northeast Ohio on its way toward Washington. Launching into another completely new line of work, Parma artist Bill Radawec here imagines how that patch of sky might have looked in a thought-provoking series of minimalist pictures. Inspired equally by the works of Barnett Newman and by Hollywood blue screens, Radawec begins each image essentially the same way: with sky-blue paper or canvas painted in acrylic of the same hue. Size and shape vary considerably, from notebook- and poster-sized to narrow horizontal strips. The rest is nothing but white pencil, depicting various arcing jet exhausts from different perspectives. There are 30 examples here and many more in storage. Most hang near the ceiling, forcing viewers to participate vicariously by looking up. Simple, perhaps, but the overtones are complex, and the interpretive potential is as boundless as the possibilities a blue screen represents. It's a strange exercise, pondering Cleveland's oblique relationship to such a momentous event. And Radawec himself has long been fascinated by these sort-of-close encounters with tragedy (the first being the suicide of his artistic idol). More important, no one who noticed one of these contrails that day would have suspected the horrible reality. In fact, they may even have smiled, assuming they'd seen a stunt plane. How wrong they would have been. Through February 3 at Exit Gallery, 2688 W. 14th St., 330-321-8161, -- Lewis

Passione -- Two prominent manifestations of Giancarlo Calicchia's multifaceted personality -- sculpture and painting -- are on display here. They're both fascinating, and together they form an overdue first look at a Cleveland treasure worth wider attention. Calicchia's background as a master woodcarver and stonemason (Calicchia Stone Industries created the Tower City RTA Station) is most evident -- along with forceful artistic sensibilities -- in "Looking Into the Future," a large, craggy bust in rose alabaster. Two faces are stacked vertically, squeezing together from top and bottom; four eyes and two noses combine in vaguely Cubist fashion, one set protruding over the other. This person's literally in two places at once, always ahead of himself, and deep, omnipresent scratches in the stone suggest an uneasy state of being. "Artist's Portrait" is an equally unsettling image in black granite and sandstone. Faces are faintly discernible from multiple angles, while a bulbous, distended cranium rounds out a creature who's formidably intelligent, but also barely human, alien-like. Another unusual medium, Honduran mahogany contains yet another subject in "Invitation to Dinner." Carved into this wall-size panel is a lanky female nude, her breasts and sexual organs spread invitingly, like a table to the world. But a painting represents Calicchia's greatest triumph here: In "The Maestro," a gaunt, oblong face in fiery reds stares with intense, lonely eyes, sitting atop mountainous shoulders, like lava bursting from a volcano. This alone is memorable, but surrounding everything are huge sections of gold leaf. The maestro isn't just passionate; he's also precious. Through January 30 at 1point618 Gallery, 6421 Detroit Ave., 216-281-1618, -- Lewis

Soulful Silence -- Printing with wood and linoleum has a long and somber history; just think of the many dark masterpieces by Albrecht Dürer and Käthe Kollwitz. Shaker Heights artist Leena Nevalainen-Smith is a little different. While many of her linocuts here were inspired by 9-11, tragedy isn't the dominant emotion. Apart from effective scenes of pain and paranoia, she also depicts simple joy and innocent humor. There's even the occasional splash of watercolor. Psychological tension and technical accomplishment come to a head in "Yell," a portrait of a man screaming. Thick paper used for contour creates steep valleys in the creases around his furiously clenched eyes and almost tangible texture to the deep furrows in his brow. Further visual depth lies in the muscles of his hand, as he tightly grasps his own shoulder, and in the fine details of his clothing and closely cropped beard. Tone reversal is the featured attraction in "Couple Revealed," in which an androgynous pair huddles in apocalyptic fear. But instead of white on black, their figures are thinly outlined in black against nearly solid white. Thus they appear doubly frail and exposed. Elsewhere, whimsical, colorful pictures of animals brighten the mood considerably, but, as "Nature Hike" proves, Nevalainen-Smith doesn't need paint to be lighthearted. In this black-and-white print, a woman pauses in the forest to take in the beauty. At this moment, however, the texture and design of her clothing match the bark on the trees and lilies on the stream behind her. Beyond merely enjoying the scenery, she's actually part of it. Through January 29 at Loganberry Books, 13015 Larchmere Blvd., Shaker Hts., 216-795-9800, -- Lewis

Trial by Fire -- The highest compliment for these colorful decorative glassworks by sculptor Rene Culler is that one can see how they're made. But that doesn't mean they're obvious. More accurately, they draw viewers into the process behind their construction; all bear traces of the Cleveland artist's craftsmanship without spoiling the mystery of her art. What's clear is that Culler works in layers: Visible within her most intriguing pieces are multiple, distinct strata of glass defined by color or paint. With outer layers generally transparent and edges bumpy, the pieces often evoke objects naturally frozen in ice. Two grid-shaped wall hangings made up of small squares play elegant tricks on the eye. Each tiny component is like a crystal-clear ravioli tightly stuffed with shiny metallic material. Each one is far more intricate internally than it appears, lending the overall piece a beguiling complexity that rewards close inspection. Ditto on a larger scale is a set of six plate-sized medallions connected by looping wire. Embedded within each clear-glass circle are many smaller circles containing freehand dash-and-dot patterns in glittery, earth-toned paint. A giant could rightly pick the whole thing off the wall to wear as a bracelet. Culler's technique is wide enough to include traditional forms, as a case of brightly striped, perfectly finished bowls and vases proves. But the more artisanal, the better. Her densely colorful gong-like piece with a wrought-iron frame is a little rough around the edges, but it must be brilliant in sunlight. Through January 28 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540, -- Lewis

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