Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions. 

Jasper Woods photographs documenting life in Cleveland are on display through March 31 at the Beck Center.
  • Jasper Woods photographs documenting life in Cleveland are on display through March 31 at the Beck Center.
Bodily Landscape -- It's hard to say exactly what Virginia artist Tai Hwa Goh is trying to express with this wan, highly conceptual installation, but it might have something to do with identity. Not that it isn't beautiful in its way. Four columns of translucent Korean paper hang from the ceiling a few feet apart, like curtains or scrolls. Each has been coated with beeswax, treated with faint blue or black aquatint in spots, and pressed against plywood panels. Together, they make up a sort of Chinese brush landscape, but individually, with the occasional patch of wood grain showing through, they're like giant fingerprints on skin or parchment. They also look well-worn, as if they've been through a lot. This may be commentary on Goh's cultural heritage: Although she's Korean by birth, there's more to her than her heritage -- and like any complex person, she reveals only portions of herself, never her complete soul. The theme seems to carry over into the second work: Dozens of tiny boxes made from the same paper are mounted on the wall in a row, each decorated with unique designs obscuring their interiors. Curiously, though, each box has an easily removable lid. Perhaps Goh intends them to be symbols of people. Everyone's different, but also similar in fundamental ways, and our contents remain hidden until someone probes a little deeper. Then again, who knows? Here is work that's actually too far open to interpretation. Through March 9 at SPACES Gallery, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314, www.spacesgallery.org. -- Zachary Lewis

Legal Aliens -- Among the 12 international artists exploring immigration in this show, only a few make a genuine impact, creatively questioning misconceptions and biases about the state of being foreign. The rest evoke confusion or rely on thin conceptual conceits. But it's hard to quibble with the curators' overall choice of medium. In theory, at least, video is the ideal tool for conveying movement and experience -- the essences of immigration -- and technology only reinforces the issue's urgency and relevance. The two strongest pieces make their points simply, quickly, and without words. Dan Acostioaei's "Essential Current Affairs" depicts a masked man and woman locked in a long, slow kiss. With their heads covered in black cloth, they look like terrorists, but their embrace is one of mutual sensitivity and tenderness. It's a strange, jarring contrast -- one that humanizes even those who would harm us and symbolizes the kinds of irrational divisions standing between otherwise caring people in a culture of paranoia. Sharon Paz's "Wandering Home" is less controversial, but also more universal and no less poignant emotionally. Two layers of video run simultaneously: a time lapse of a small apartment's interior and an ever-changing series of landscapes rushing past the windows outside. It's as if the room were a train, zooming cross-country, eventually returning to its original location. What a succinct, poetic illustration of the theme! Home isn't a fixed place; it goes with you, and its identity changes along the way. Through March 9 at Spaces, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314, spacesgallery.org. -- Lewis

Monet in Normandy -- Claude Monet's oeuvre has been presented a thousand times in a thousand ways, but never quite like this. Organized chronologically in accordance with Monet's many trips to France's rugged Normandy coast, and featuring a healthy mix of major and minor works, this 50-piece exhibition amounts to a quick but insightful examination of the painter's stylistic development. Famous works from the 1860s like "The Garden at Sainte-Adresse" and "Pointe de la Heve at Low Tide" illuminate the show's early chapter, in which Monet becomes infatuated with the sea and refines his ability to produce landscapes both fresh and dramatic. But it's not long until Monet's nascent Impressionism begins to emerge. By the 1880s, after marriage and many returns to the shore, his palette is growing more subtle and complex, and he's more intensely obsessed with water. One painting here, full of blue-green curlicues depicting crashing waves, verges on pure abstraction. This tendency is even more pronounced by the 1890s. "Gorge of the Petit Ailly," from 1897, is an ethereal landscape dominated by shades of pink, light green, and yellow, masterfully blended. All this is mere prelude, of course, to the water lilies of Giverny, and those attending just for these paintings won't be disappointed by the grand examples here. But the most rewarding pieces are those that show Monet's devotion to capturing the transformative effects of light, shadow, and snow. The few precious selections from the Rouen cathedral and haystack series are enough to steal this already dazzling show. Through May 20 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Boulevard, 216-421-7350, www.clevelandart.org. -- Lewis

Side by Side -- Group showcases of Cleveland-area talent are fairly common. Few exhibits, however, achieve persuasive coherence as this 10-artist show does, with related works that rub shoulders. It's not a gimmick. While most of the artists here have plenty to offer individually, the show's layout provides additional, insightful context, placing each piece along a spectrum illuminating both its uniqueness and its connections to its neighbors. At first, Laurie Addis' intricate linen weavings bear no resemblance to Neil MacDonald's pixilated landscapes of Salton Sea, an ecologically ruined lake in Southern California. But both rely on distance to achieve their effects. Like Impressionism in reverse, Addis' work gets better close up; wild variety and density of stitching emerges out of seemingly solid patches of dark, earthy colors. By contrast, distance brings MacDonald's images into sharper focus: Fragmentation and graininess coalesce into scenes of devastating decline and waste. From here, the leap to Mark Moskovitz's clever "Future Perfect" is not far. It also addresses environmental concerns. Biologically speaking, this large white bench made from plastic and polyester cord is going nowhere. But, like the earth itself, it isn't too late to avert disaster. The bench will decompose, if only it gets recycled. Pure abstraction is one major terminus of this artistic line, and Gianna Commito's complex geometric designs represent that end handily, ingeniously inducing three-dimensionality and drawing the eye into deep visual vortices with a force similar to the one holding the entire show together. Through May 13 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Lewis

Visions of a City With Soul -- Eighty years of life in Cleveland come alive in this ample survey of four photographers: Arthur Gray, William Barnhill, Jasper Wood, and Andrew Borowiec. What's striking is how different these artists are. Beyond using black-and-white film, they have almost nothing in common. Gray, in the 1920s, fondly captures Cleveland's economic heyday, when downtown was a vibrant, crowded shopping district and black smoke symbolized industrial health. But while his work is dated, it's also strikingly contemporary in certain respects. "Bridges at Night," a long exposure illustrating the curvy paths of traffic through and over the Flats, might have been taken yesterday. Wood, a self-taught artist in the late '40s, exposes Cleveland's extreme poverty with brutal honesty; his shots of unemployed men and grimy children playing in garbage-strewn slums burn onto the visual memory instantaneously. Urban loneliness, expressed via desolate, shadowy alleyways, seems to have been Barnhill's primary interest in the late '30s. But Borowiec, a professor at the University of Akron, has the sharpest formal eye. Shooting in modern-day western Cleveland, Borowiec composes scenes of remarkable depth and geometric eclecticism. Lines formed by train tracks, beams, and industrial structures intersect at every angle, setting up one surprising contrast after another. Perfect regularity, though, is what distinguishes his "Bridge Street, Ohio City." These hanging plants, evenly distributed over someone's chain-link fence, are almost too precise to be real -- oases of consistency in an inconsistent world. Through March 31 at the Cleveland Artists Foundation (at Beck Center for the Arts), 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-227-9507, clevelandartists.org. -- Lewis

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