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Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions. 

Paulie, by Cleveland Institute of Art student Hunter T. - Keels, is on view at E. Gordon Gallery.
  • Paulie, by Cleveland Institute of Art student Hunter T. Keels, is on view at E. Gordon Gallery.
NEW

Dimensional Drift -- Unless outsider art is your thing, these crude paintings and sculptures by Clevelander John Arndt probably won't keep your interest; the artist's lack of formal training is evident to some degree in almost every piece. Foreshortening seems to be a concept of interest to Arndt, who experiments with it in a set of small relief portraits of dancers and joggers. They're not bad -- mostly just dull. His straight-up, two-dimensional paintings edge ahead of the rest because they, at least, have some vague, pulpy message to convey -- and some are even funny. Best is "The Blues Revolution in East Pakistan," a surreal scene in which a dark-bearded crowd agitates not for some political figure, but for B.B. King, as if music matters when poverty and chaos predominate. Finally, if one can get past the coloring-book quality of the picture, there is a bit of irony to savor in "Dovey 9/11 Cheesecake," a large painting of a buxom girl in a short skirt, posing with some doves in front of the Twin Towers. After all the gross political abuse of September 11, this tongue-in-cheek painting is almost therapeutic. Through December 31 at Doubting Thomas Gallery, 856 Jefferson Ave., 216-241-7800, www.geocities.com/doubtingthomas. -- Zachary Lewis

Growing Up -- More an environment than an exhibit, this cohesive little show by Cleveland Institute of Art student Brooke Inman immerses visitors in the past while inviting them to examine the present and future from that perspective. A 10-year-old might have created Inman's pictures of her childhood home -- and she wants us to imagine that one did, even though the black-and-white images are actually detailed prints made to resemble old photographs. This is also the case with a series of self-portraits, which depict Inman as resolutely cheerful, despite braces and bad hair, during some awkward, prepubescent phase. More affecting is Inman-as-a-child dreaming, on paper, of her future home, a perfect suburban dwelling complete with basketball court. She even pays tribute to fort-building, that quintessential childhood pastime, with a carpeted nook formed from an overturned sofa. Inside are two artist books with copies of the prints on the walls, turning the fort into a sort of study. The real coup de grace, though, is right in the front window: a walled-off section of the room that appears to be stuffed from floor to ceiling with old toys, a child's hidden stash. Adult artists reverting to childhood can grow tiresome quickly, but Inman's show is too small for that. It manages to prompt reflection on significant questions about what we decide to discard, gain, and hold onto as we age. Through January 21 at Raw & Co Gallery, 1009 Kenilworth Ave., 216-781-2211, www.rawandcogallery.com. -- Lewis

I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night -- Thank the Cleveland Institute of Art for this amply stocked show, for which students produced each piece during a recent studio class. Given the wide-ranging results, it's clear nobody found the theme confining. Kyle Moore's small ceramic beds, displayed on an antique bed frame, are particularly compelling in their portrayal of various nightmarish possibilities. There's the fear of vaporization in "Where We Once Were," in which a bed is burned, atom-bomblike, with only shadows of humans left behind; but just as disturbing is the fear of simple abandonment, shown in an empty bed called "White, Lonely Sleep State." Kate Kisicki's series of "Storm" paintings are surprisingly dissimilar; the best of them exude the majestic turbulence of a tidal-wave print by Hokusai. Justin Martin's set of envelopes labeled "good," "bad," and "ugly" are surreally amusing theatrical scenarios on paper, but it's his "It Wasn't All in My Head" that's among the show's most purely artistic entries: a pencil-drawn flow chart of his mental activity one evening in 2003. That night, Martin really did have too much to dream. Through January 14 at E. Gordon Gallery, 2026 Murray Hill Road, 216-795-0971, www.egordongallery.com. -- Lewis

ONGOING

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. -- 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

Dreaming of a More Better Future -- The woman screaming on this exhibit's poster pretty much sums it up. The scenarios presented across this large, variably worthwhile display range from disturbing to chilling -- "something horribly remote and distinct from mankind," to quote Nick Rule's inky text painting at the entrance. It's too bad that Jose Krapp's well-stocked fallout shelter, called "Are We There Yet," is considered a work of art, or that Nicola Lopez's print "On the Horizon," featuring a hillside landscape densely packed with cellular towers and satellite dishes, glimpses our future reality. One work cuts extremely close to home: In Ted Savinor's "News From Tomorrow" headlines, terrorists have destroyed Disneyland and Browns Stadium. Not every prediction is terrifying; some are just depressing: "Ghost of Progress," Paul Ramirez's video of a model jet racing through a poor Mexican town underscores how wide the global economic gap is growing. There are also moments of hope: Architectural designs by Acconci Studio predict elegant, organic forms, and eclectic public protests organized by Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher suggest that at least some people are willing to take action for change. Through December 22 at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 11141 East Blvd., 216-421-7407, www.cia.edu. -- Lewis

Flowers for Disappearing -- "Half-Thought, With Reverb" is what Bedford artist Mark Keffer titles each of his seven paintings here. But don't take that to mean they're incomplete. Each represents a whole and robust visual system in perfect balance with itself, similar to a well-conceived landscape but far removed from anything realistic. What's more, embedded in the works is some brilliant commentary. Start with the backdrop: Scraped layers of pastel acrylic (green, pink, tan) combine to form a blurry and unobtrusive foundation, like snow on a silent television in another room. On top of these are abstract figures. They're the ones having the "half-thoughts." Some bear faint resemblance to human heads or stumpy people; others are simply shapeless lumps. Keffer paints many of the figures in a white-brick pattern, which heightens the abstraction and strengthens their contrast to the background. Far more important, though, is what's above them: variously colored bull's-eyes, some connected to each other, some floating alone. Their visual effect is of random, silent bursts that quickly fade into nothing. In a newspaper cartoon, they'd be thought bubbles with no words in them. As a result, the figures come across as scatterbrained and incapable of harnessing their own mental activity. Solitary, unfocused beings adrift in an empty environment . . . sound familiar? Through December 21 at Brandt Gallery, 1028 Kenilworth Ave., 216-621-1610, www.brandtgallery.org. -- Lewis

Multiplicity -- Minimalism may not be a particularly deep aesthetic concept, but it has inspired some stunning visual work in this show, where patterns formed by otherwise mundane pieces yield large, viscerally moving creations in a variety of media. Sarah Chokyi Bauer's video of herself performing a repetitive Buddhist ceremony (flopping to the floor, standing up again) gets dull fast, but the two accompanying wall-size compilations of the individual film frames offer a beautiful experience enriched by subtle gradations in light from daytime to darkness. Each of Danielle Julian-Norton's pressed-rice boats, meanwhile, is a wonder unto itself, but dozens of them suspended from the ceiling (in "Treading and Transport") form something else altogether: a terrain that's weightless and fragile, but also faintly imposing. In the work of Patrick Gabler, small, inky-black curlicues painted in circles on huge paper scrolls become giant, feathery-textured planets with orbiting moons. Loren Schwerd's "Loveseat" consists of two wicker-bottomed chairs connected at their seats with long, woven strands of hair. It doesn't exactly fit the show's theme, but it's so creative, it hardly matters. Through January 6 at Spaces, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314, www.spacesgallery.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

Wish List -- Gender roles and consumerism are the issues at hand in this tiny display of prints by New Yorker Julia Jacquette. The former receives the stronger treatment: Jacquette studies women's deeply embedded reverence for weddings through a set of lithographic close-ups of an ornate beaded gown, white flowers, and a decorated cake. With her intently fixed gaze, she conveys the notion that such objects have iconic status -- they're highly sought prizes, goals to be pursued. Meanwhile, in a panel titled "Couples Embracing," Jacquette tries to illustrate the passive nature of women in relationships: In each picture, the female is shorter than the male, and she's always enfolded in his arms -- never vice versa. These two highly effective strokes are followed by a lazy video installation that's nothing but an episode of The Jetsons, the stereotypical nuclear family, whose mother figure is demure and obedient to a fault. The theory behind the rest of Jacquette's show is that love and food share a mystical bond -- particularly food that's mass-produced. To illustrate this shrewdly observant concept, she titles four images of luscious, mouthwatering desserts "To Kiss Your Lips." It's true, though: In terms of sheer pleasure, sometimes there's little difference between a sensual embrace and a big mound of Jell-O. Through December 22 at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 11141 East Blvd., 216-421-7400, www.cia.edu. -- Lewis

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