- Dreams and Illusions, at Contessa Gallery through November 18.
Martin Ball – You probably didn't realize geometry has a philosophical side, but that's what you'll discover in these fascinating oil-and-wax paintings by Ball, an English-born Kent State professor. The show consists of nine pieces from two series: "Carceral" and "Erasure." Both hail from the late 1980s and early '90s, and both are debuting in the U.S. They stem from the same basic blueprint: carefully painted grids overlaid with meticulous, spirographlike arcs. But there are a few key differences. The paintings in "Carceral" (think prison) look like plaid accidents: The grids are black, and the arcs, vibrantly colorful, float above and through the bars. In "Carceral 1," yellow arcs radiate across a densely gridded, mostly black background, like bolts of neon at night. The "Erasure" images, by contrast, resemble giant, smudged thumbprints or swarms of locusts: All are ghostly black-and-white, and the arcs are blurred at points by the grid in an organic, cohesive system. The physicality and rhythm of the abstractions offer plenty to savor, but Ball is deeper than that. He seems to be portraying the cosmos, with the grids representing ethics and laws. These are two worldviews — one where rules are created, to be obeyed or disobeyed, and another where principles are internal, built into our genes. It's a profound conceptual foundation, and the implications linger long after the show. Through December 21 at Exit (a gallery space), 2688 West 14th Street, Cleveland, 330-321-8161. — Zachary Lewis
Victoria Anders — Sometimes the right frame really does make all the difference. On their own, these black-and-white, untitled photos of Cleveland might not garner much attention. But as Anders presents them, printed on metal and dangling inside customized aluminum borders, they're sure to turn heads. Subject-wise, Anders is absorbed with Cleveland's aging infrastructure: bridges, railways, and roads, and their brick, stone, and steel components. Printing the prints on metal reminds viewers, perhaps painfully, of Cleveland's status as a fallen Rust Belt stronghold, but what elevates these generally static cityscapes are their frames: thin metal rims delicately cut in ways that accentuate or extend features in the images. The technique has its limitations — her experiments with a human subject are distinct flops — but when it works, it really works. On one strong example, the frame extrapolates a train track viewed head-on; the rails seem to jut from the wall. In another, a bridge's undergirding keeps arcing gracefully beyond the printed surface. In the end, what Anders provides, besides a rather somber tribute to Cleveland, are lessons in art appreciation and creative pointers to a deeper understanding of photography. Through November 30 at The Wooltex Gallery, 1900 Superior Avenue, www.thewooltexgallery.com. — Lewis
Beyond the Line — MOCA had its hands full installing these vast, intricate "hybrid constructions" by New Yorker Diana Cooper, who enjoys her first solo museum exhibition here. The effort was worthwhile, at least for us. Beneath all the colorful, elaborate trappings — Cooper's imagination is staggering — is a conceptual foundation that's clear and solid: Even complex systems are subject to chaos. "Emerger," a recent creation, strikes the deepest personal chord. Pink and white ribbons and red felt buttons take over an entire wall. But unlike several other entries that resemble circuit boards, this evokes a soft, living creature, complete with organs, arteries, and blood — a portrait of human frailty. Cooper's grandest and timeliest gesture is "Orange Alert UK," a room in which warnings get into your face from all sides, like a booby-trapped dungeon: an immense paper sunburst here, large, pointy shards of orange foamboard there. It's her depiction of a flawed terror-alert system. "Experiments in 3D" is a doodle gone wild — a tour de force of brownish scribbling marked by concave and convex patterns. Through December 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, 8501 Carnegie Avenue, 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. — Lewis
Dreams and Illusions: The Photography of Lynn Goldsmith — Photographs from this well-established celebrity photog's "In the Looking Glass" series of self-portraits are displayed here alongside her rock mosaics — portraits of rockers like Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen, assembled from hundreds of smaller black-and-white pictures. Goldsmith's "In the Looking Glass" works are uncanny bits of eye candy. She digitally melds photographs of fanciful window decorations from New York City department stores into backdrops for costumed mannequins, who act out roles of familiar stories (Thumbelina, Pygmalion, Cinderella) and original, more ambiguous narratives. Using the computer, Goldsmith seamlessly pastes her own face onto each of the costumed figures (male and female, black and white) for a result that's part Cindy Sherman, part VH1. Goldsmith is at her best when she's at her funniest, as in "No Date?" Here, an elderly mother with a bouffant hairdo and oversize handbag chides her dour, bespectacled daughter, who sits at home knitting alone, presumably on a weekend night. Dreams and Illusions: The Photography of Lynn Goldsmith. Through November 18 at Contessa Gallery, Legacy Village, 24667 Cedar Road, Lyndhurst, 216-382-7800, www.contessagallery.com. — Theresa Bembnister
Erik Neff — Neff, a local painter and draftsman, was recently included in a major museum exhibition in Cleveland. That made sense: It was a group show, and Neff's loosely geometrical abstractions, thickly painted on small canvases, fit into and benefited from the larger theme. But Neff alone is much harder to take. Here, the paintings seem entirely random, visually mute, driven by no particular concept or intention. One standout is "Nodule," in which a blue rectangle frames a light rising in the sky over a smudged, barren landscape. Some viewers detect environmental meaning in Neff's work. Perhaps there's something here about our sacrifice of the external world in pursuit of indoor lives. Who knows? Neff's drawings, meanwhile — small, incoherent improvisations in charcoal, ink, and pastel — are as dull as the paintings, but also flat and lifeless. No doubt Neff had something in mind with them, but there's no guessing what. In one of the more distinctive images, a dark eye seems to stare out mysteriously behind faint, jagged lines, like an ancient hieroglyph on a cracked cave wall. But that would be an act of communication, and there's none of that going on here. Through November 30 at Raw & Co. Gallery, 1009 Kenilworth Avenue, Cleveland, 216-235-0635. — Lewis
Reverberation — Ohioan Audra Skuodas' bold but sensitive abstractions won't save Earth, but they may align you more closely with it. Whether painting with acrylic on large canvases or pencil-drawing on vellum, Skuodas capitalizes on the inherent graces and rigidities of physics. She'll map out a perfect grid, then apply sensual but orderly curves, like sound waves, or more freewheeling, balletic strings of color. To underscore the point, she'll include a female figure, gaunt and bent over backwards, floating in a yoga-like position of submission to the visual rhythm. Vellum gives these images a ghostly aura. "Pattern, Structure, Archetype Series" is two paintings back-to-back. In one, loops of red, silver, and pink arc freely against a sea of baby blue. Its mate is more primordial: Pastel-colored lassos float serenely against gray, like sperm under a microscope or quasi-human figures posing as a group. The four-part "Vibrational Vulnerability Series" is more complete conceptually. Beneath it are pencil-drawn grids, then evenly spaced curves in red or black, gently dipping and rising like sine waves. One picture includes the now-familiar woman, presumably signifying Skuodas herself, held by some invisible force while hovering blissfully amid the waves and bars. Her particles are practically dancing to the rhythm of the spheres. Talk about being in tune with nature. Through December 21 at 1point618 Gallery, 6421 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, 216-281-1618, www.1point618gallery.com. — Lewis