- The Artwork of Grant Smrekar is at MOCA through May.
Aerossault: The Artwork of Grant Smrekar -- Grant Smrekar's work is evidence that there's more to graffiti than just gang tags and foul language. His often political pop art -- full of American flags, helicopters, and what looks like Ché Guevara -- poses timeless questions about politics and war; clearly, he wonders whether America's overseas involvement reflects a democratic society. His garish portraits of pop-music icons, meanwhile, are fashioned through the reproduction of photographs using a stencil technique: Neon likenesses of Debbie Harry and Björk evoke Andy Warhol's images of Marilyn Monroe. The works' clumsy pine frames leave something to be desired, but the spray and acrylic paintings are well composed and skillfully rendered. With Aerossault, Smrekar dispels the negative connotations associated with graffiti, at least within the walls of the gallery. Through April 16 at Nimbis Gallery, 1836 W. 25th St., Suite 1B, 216-522-1836. -- Nadia Michel
Curve -- Hair pomade on the walls may sound like a scene from Barbershop gone bad, but Kori Newkirk thinks it's a good idea. His effort here is noteworthy, the results are less so. Giant fingerprints, composed of spots of pomade, are painted directly onto white walls, the result of days of work for Newkirk and his team of assistants. Reminiscent of fingerprinting, the work alludes to crime and racism; the goo itself is a reference to African-American culture, where local hair salons often play an important social role. The issue of identity is at the forefront: There's nothing more unique than an individual's fingerprints. Newkirk's exploration of unconventional media gives new meaning to the phrase "The medium is the message." The downfall of that idea is that one must read the adjacent label to know the "paint" is actually hair product. And without knowing, the work takes on a sort of unidimensional aspect. After all, any common criminal -- or artist, for that matter -- can leave fingerprints on a wall. Through May 23 at MOCA, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671. -- Michel
It's a Wonderful Life: Psychodrama in Contemporary Painting -- The 49 works that make up this Spaces show address death, violence, and other episodes of daily living gone wrong. Twenty-four artists, working in a diverse array of contemporary genres, present intimate glimpses into the darker parts of their psyches; the overall effect, unsurprisingly, is rather gloomy and disjointed. Jason Sleurs's eye-catching, somewhat grotesque animal paintings (an otter aggressively gnawing at a starfish; a beaver mounting a platypus) collide with Marlene Dumas's watercolor portrait of an obnoxious kid ("Rotten Child"). A troubled childhood inspired Henry Darger's work; his lingering pain is palpable in the fascinating watercolor "Free Child Prisoners," in which numerous pretty little girls are fleeing what looks like a series of explosions on the horizon. But if the show's range of themes and colors is exhilarating, its general pessimism can be overwhelming. For a more jovial frolic, the 1947 film of the same name is a safer bet. Through May 14 at Spaces, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314. -- Michel
Salvador Dalí: Master of Surrealism -- Masterfully etched details and expertly created splashes of color only begin to suggest the nearly 80 works on display, which focus on Dal í 's fascination with the story of Faust, mythology, and sexuality between the 1930s and the late '60s. Famous for his dreamlike, meticulous depictions of daring themes, the Surrealist constantly explored techniques that made his work all the more fascinating: In the large illustration "Medusa," the subject's hair was created by throwing an ink- and acid-soaked octopus at the image. On another wall, two large Aubusson tapestries are rare and beautiful reproductions of Dal í 's art. His work was often outrageous, sometimes classic, but always an interesting glimpse into the mind of a highly original man. The same goes for this show. That Contessa has succeeded in procuring such an extensive collection is commendable and a considerable highlight for Cleveland's art scene. Through April 30 at Contessa Gallery, 24667 Cedar Rd. (Legacy Village), Lyndhurst, 216-382-7800. -- Michel
Senenkunya: Many Voices, One Family -- Everyday objects displayed in their cultural context create an intimate portrait of life in West Africa. Photographs by Peggy Turbett (photo editor for The Plain Dealer) document her visit to Mali in 2002: Colorful rituals and the daily tasks of women are pictured in vibrant, large-scale images, revealing an alternative West African reality that has nothing to do with war or poverty. On the main floor, artifacts are displayed alongside life-sized reproductions of village homes and other structures. Among the highlights: the Toga, a decision-making area with a low ceiling that forces village men to sit down, thus eliminating height inequalities that might upset the balance of power. Another realistic scene is a market cart, strewn with hanging fruit and resting alongside the facade of a 13th-century mud mosque. In this way, utilitarian objects take on resounding new life as art. It's an engaging, hugely enlightening experience. Through August 29 at the Museum of Natural History, 1 Wade Oval Dr., 216-231-4600. -- Michel
Small Monuments -- The word "monument" conjures images of the Taj Mahal or the Statue of Liberty. This inaugural exhibit at MOCA's Sky Lounge delivers on the "small," but not much else. Small-format paintings and drawings are meant to examine the relationship between monuments and public and private space. The title seems far-fetched for this selection of works, which have little to do with the subject -- or even with each other. Charles Kanswisher's Real Estate Drawings -- graphite replicas of houses based on photographs of real estate -- depict typical Ohio architecture and vacant land. Problem is, the homes don't look quite old enough to be considered monuments, nor are they particularly remarkable. Only Christine Kuper's abstract-meets-representational urban landscapes might fit the bill: Her paintings are both aesthetically pleasing and reminiscent of interesting locations. Sky Lounge is 95 linear feet of wall space on MOCA's mezzanine level, dedicated to showcasing emerging local artists. It's an exciting new space; sadly, its inaugural exhibit can't match its appeal. Through May 23 at MOCA, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671. -- Michel