- Markus Piersons variations on the theme of coyote are on view at Contessa Gallery.
Markus Pierson: Know Limit -- Painter-sculptor-writer Markus Pierson is known for his coyotes -- fun-loving, well-dressed, elongated, Joe Camel-like creatures inspired by the Joni Mitchell song "Coyote," which serve as ongoing allegories for humanity. They inhabit a dark, Tim Burton-like world, riding motorcycles and sipping martinis. Pierson often attaches texts with poetic observations about life or love. In "Know Limit," an oversized coyote pushes the edge of the frame while text relates the artist's surprise at his own success: "I can't believe what I've done, where I've been, and so I say to you these two simple words. Not no limit but know limit." Driving home the messages are small objects -- a pearl, for instance, in a painting called "Renaissance" that alludes to "pearls of wisdom" -- carefully set into the canvas. The obstacle to appreciating Pierson's work is its cartoonish appearance. Ingenious and unique as many of the pieces are, they would be oddities in anyone's home. (Consider "Homage to Magritte: This Is Not a Coyote," a Dadaist sculpture balanced on one foot, a train running through its body and a fish in its coat pocket.) Pierson's creations fetch big dollars; you'll probably be content just fetching a look. Through September 19 at the Contessa Gallery, 24667 Cedar Rd. (Legacy Village), Lyndhurst, 216-382-7800, www.contessagallery.com. -- Zachary Lewis
The Sidekick Show -- He's scratching their backs, and they're scratching his. That's the idea behind this motley display of work by local artists organized by Pop Shop owner Richard Cihlar. Some, including Jeremy Mann and Joshua Shark, could hold their own at higher-profile locations. Mann earns the gallery's central display with an abstract watercolor on canvas titled "Current," which depicts a huge astral explosion in hues of peach and black. Shark scores with "Touch," a spectacularly detailed drawing in colored pencil of a hand with long fingernails resting on a plush green pillow; upon closer inspection, it might be a knotted tree stump with extended roots. In Shark's "Ada Chino Hanabi Takai," a pretty girl in a kimono smokes a cigarette beneath an ornately dappled sky dotted with fireworks; the visual conflict here between tradition and modernity is striking. Also visually remarkable is Tim Collins' "Shingles," a wonderfully blinding geometrical abstract best described as interlocking rows of multicolored zippers. Graffiti artist Bob Peck, woodcarver Joseph Smith, and Baroque-style printmaker Ginger Wankewycz -- some of Cihlar's other "sidekicks" -- also offer welcome contributions. Through September 17 at the Pop Shop, 17020 Madison Ave., Lakewood, 216-227-8440. -- Lewis
Michaël Borremans: Hallucination and Reality -- The world envisioned by this young Belgian artist is not an appealing place, even if his skill is in portraying it. In this large exhibition, Borremans outlines, in the most delicate hand, a dark, mechanistic, submissive society in which man and nature are traded and altered like commodities."Slight Modifications," a veritable catalog of human facial deformities, might be an illustration of the ills scientists now seek to eradicate; alternatively, "Cerebral Office" and "Boxing Heads" -- in which human heads are bought, sold, and stored on racks, as if they were shoes -- argue against genetic tampering. And the giant women towering over a model city, notepads at the ready, in "Terror Watch," demonstrate the ultimate in governmental invasiveness. Incidentally, the piece also exemplifies the strongest tool in Borremans' arsenal: perspective, or exaggerating differences in size. He does this most effectively in "Trickland," a vision of oversized humans crawling over a landscape and rearranging it as if it were a toy train set. Through September 4 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., 216-421-7340, www.clevelandart.org. -- Lewis
The NEO Show -- Despite its huge variety of media, this juried exhibition of 80 Northeast Ohio artists doesn't offer enough viable alternatives to established tradition. In lieu of deeply considered art are bright colors, appealing surfaces, technical creativity, mechanical gizmos, and ingratiating effects that mostly entertain rather than nourish. Take, for example, Jason Lee's "Greener," a cute installation consisting of backlit photos of grass and a miniature white picket fence; Stephen Litchfield's three-key piano; or Benjamin Kinsley's increasingly annoying video of a young man twisting and shrieking. These were among the best of 1,300 applicants? Thankfully, there are a few saving graces. One never tires of Hildur Jonsson's complex but elegant fiber weavings, and at least one painter -- Brian Sharp -- hasn't abandoned pure abstraction. Photorealist James Seward offers the fine painting "My Father in the Living Room of Our 10th House," a massive close-up of an old man's craggy face, and photography itself is well represented by Herbert Ascherman Jr.'s beautifully obscured black-and-white nightscape and by Michael Loderstedt's sadly effective view of Waccamaw Neck, South Carolina, a historical site currently marred by discarded garbage. Through September 4 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., 216-421-7350, www.clevelandart.org. -- Lewis
Sculpture Garden -- The small sculpture garden at Atmosphere's new Tremont digs is filled with engaging sights. Alex Stoll's burnt-steel dragonflies and squirrels hover over shrubbery like busy real-life creatures. A large insect with brightly colored metal bars for legs oversees the garden's back half. Near the front, Lothar Jobczyk's "Garden Spirits" -- sandstone blocks with craggy, totemic faces -- poke their heads above the plants; commendably, Jobczyk managed to give each one a personality without squandering their dense, stony qualities. But the sculptures by Frank Brozman and Jerry Schmidt are the kings of this jungle. Brozman's are abstract realizations in brown steel of familiar materials and physical processes. Ornate flower planters are among his more obvious examples, but he can be subtler: At first, his "Insatiable" looks like nothing more than a large flat piece of steel connected to its stand by a metal coil. Viewed from the side, however, it becomes a face and stomach forever trapped in a cycle of feeding and regurgitating. Schmidt's "Photogenic" compares in size to the giant insect, but surpasses it conceptually: A circle of blue steel punctures a large, flesh-colored plate, like a lens coming out of a camera. Not only does it evoke photography in this way; the whole, curvaceous, semi-animate thing appears to be posing for a picture. Atmosphere Gallery, 2379 Professor Ave., Suite 1, 216-685-9527. -- Lewis
Secrets Whispered in the Night -- If these paintings truly represent Maria Winiarski's dreams, she cannot be sleeping well. But their vaguely uneasy atmosphere is also precisely what makes them interesting. This self-taught, resolutely original Lakewood artist here presents a series of exceedingly strange primal images that bear a greater resemblance to hallucinogenic visions than to reality. A cross between a surrealist, a fauvist, and a cave painter, Winiarski bothers little with strict three-dimensional perspective, and her color palette is either brilliantly bright or muted and gritty. She paints with oils on canvas, except, oddly enough, when she's using rubber-backed floorboard. Her greatest concern, it seems, is in creating single-frame mysteries. They can be beautiful, even elegant. Consider the vaporously thin blue fabric draped over a reclining nude in "Sleeping With Her Mask." They can be ugly, like the grotesque "Warrior" with the snake growing out of his head. The enigma is how to interpret her works. Winiarski is at her peak when she leaves at least a few clues, as in "Styx," in which a woman contemplates her next step beside the mythological river of Hades. But lack of narrative resolution is OK, if less compelling. A witch with flowing blond hair holding two birds ("Blue Canary") will make a fine conversation piece. Then again, so will almost everything here. Through September 3 at E. Gordon Gallery, 2026 Murray Hill Rd., 216-795-0971, www.egordongallery.com. -- Lewis