Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions. 

L.C. Armstrong's "Sunrise Over Sleepwalkers" is on view in - Populence at MOCA.
  • L.C. Armstrong's "Sunrise Over Sleepwalkers" is on view in Populence at MOCA.
Design for the Modern World: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe and America, 1880-1920 -- The art museum's first major arts-and-crafts show in years is notable not only for its enormous size, but for the many far-flung cultures (included are works from Germany, Scandinavia, Scotland, and Hungary) that share space. But what really unites these rooms of exquisitely designed teapots, tables, chairs, lamps, jewelry, and vases is the notion that arts and crafts are anything but stylistically homogeneous: Resisting the push toward industrialism, crafts practitioners cared about design that was beautiful but functional and, above all, honest in construction. Paramount was evidence of their origin -- visible screwheads on a chair or tiny hammer marks on a silver teapot; objects with such traits, even if they were mass-produced, were deemed inherently better. Some artists, like Henry Van de Velde, who designed an entire modernist dining room for a department store, also valued affordability. The movement was a lifestyle, too, with small communes forming around these principles. The exhibit culminates in America with some elegant chairs and lamps obviously designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. There's even a nod to Cleveland's golden age of enamel. In short, Design for the Modern World renders a potentially dull subject in the most compelling manner possible. Through January 8 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., 216-421-7340, www.clevelandart.org. -- Zachary Lewis

Drawn to Cleveland -- More than a tribute to a generous museum patron or to the city, this group exhibition feels like a reunion. Fourteen nationally recognized artists are represented here through various works on paper. Each is connected to Cleveland, and many have shown at MOCA previously, but beyond that common experience, they've followed widely different paths. Robert Crumb's anxiety-ridden cartoons are perhaps the most famous; the best of the five examples here is his most recent, a French-themed set about consumerism called "Creeping Global Villagism," from 2004. Dana Schutz is present through three captivating black-and-white portraits of friends, whom she conveys with brutal, vaguely cubist honesty; even her self-portrait, a figure with a jack-o'-lanternlike head, is unsparing. April Gornick and Heide Fasnacht, meanwhile, wield graphite and charcoal with stunning virtuosity. Gornick's "Allee" may be the most memorable piece in the show: Using charcoal, she captures the play of light moving between groves of neatly planted trees, the horizon receding almost infinitely. Fasnacht's "Big Bang," a picture of an explosion, is pencil drawing at its most technically accomplished, but her "Sneeze V" is truly inspired: An icky mess spews across the immense page in the form of tiny, singed punctures to the paper. Through December 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Lewis

POPulence -- Splendor and extravagance are the defining traits of this large-scale group exhibition organized by the University of Houston Art Museum. From velvet DayGlo flowers on the floor to swooning visions in latex and acrylic on the walls, POPulence proves without question that pop art has moved into a brighter and more expansive new realm. It's tough to say who's furthest over the top, but L.C. Armstrong probably takes that honor. Her immense Hawaiian seascapes, complete with figures frolicking in the water, are almost ridiculously naive. Were it not for the frighteningly large flowers in the foreground, they might be perfect for travel brochures. Next in line is Chiho Aoshima, with her panoramic reveries about youthful aimlessness; her cute, anime-style figures drift like Japanese versions of Ophelia through scarily enchanted undersea environments fashioned out of film negatives and Plexiglas. Lacking any such narrative intent, David Reed takes graffiti art to a new level. He uses alkyd paints to create dynamic swirling lines so nearly three-dimensional, they're like liquids in motion. Kim Squaglia's colorful, multilayered combinations of latex, resin, and oil resemble Starburst chews and look good enough to eat. Then again, so do many pieces in this gloriously hedonistic exhibition. Glossy, sensuous, and full of references to contemporary culture, the whole show is candy for the eyes. Through December 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.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

Tierra Madura -- Hispanic Heritage Month is this exhibit's reason for being. Unfortunately, the two artists here, Augusto Bordelois and Angelica Pozo, both Cleveland-based and of Cuban descent, don't provide cause for celebration. Bordelois clearly loves Raphael and Frida Kahlo, but he falls short of their technical and narrative prowess. He paints large, smooth-skinned figures and places them in archetypal outdoor or abstract settings, but the meaning behind the pictures is often absent. Whether there is sense behind "Dreams and Oars Are All One Needs," in which a man with butterfly wings embraces an angel beneath a hovering oar, only the artist knows; maybe he's trying too hard to be intellectual. In other cases, the message is positively blunt. For instance, the figure in "It Hurts So Much to Be Far Away From Home" (wordy titles are another issue) is literally stabbed and bloodied by a house, while his engorged heart dangles before his eyes. It's the most obvious piece in the bunch, but like the rest, it's hard to take seriously. Pozo, meanwhile, applies Latin names -- "Bolla Plumaris," "Conjunctus Punctatus" -- to her plant- and seed-inspired bowls and vases, but alas, this fails to lend them significant credibility. Their palette is simply too gaudy and their composition too crude. When one piece after another looks like a model for the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors, it's a problem. Through November 5 at Cuyahoga Community College Gallery West, 11000 Pleasant Valley Rd., Parma, 216-987-5322, www.tri-c.edu/artgalleries. -- Lewis

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