Tell Me Something I Don¹t Know -- Anthropomorphism, the practice of ascribing human traits to inanimate objects, is the name of the game in this quirky but profoundly astute series of photos by Chicago-based conceptual artist Joel Ross. The objects in this case are bland cookie-cutter homes in a suburb of St. Louis. Ross gives the structures unique voices by planting in their yards (with the owners' consent) rows of handwritten signs spelling thoughts that people might have. Their range is truly human, from disappointment, fear, and embarrassment to pure goofiness. One drab, semi-neglected abode with patches of dead grass cries out -- appropriately, like the dumb kid in class -- "I think there's something wrong with my arm." Another home -- finer and more neatly manicured, featuring even rows of blue shutters -- belies its calm appearance with "Sometimes it feels like my brain is on fire." A third states, randomly and empty-headedly, "My bowling thumb is still sore." The beauty of these images is manifold. In one sense, they underscore and subtly fight back against the generic, nondescript subdevelopments ubiquitous throughout the United States. They're also deliciously subversive and prank-like, proclaiming private thoughts in a setting where public decorum is the rule. But even this is done in a friendly, innocent manner reminiscent of birth or graduation announcements. Finally, they're empathetic, evoking genuine concern for the people inside or simply plucking the heart strings like a sad clown. It's impossible, for instance, not to love a well-worn house declaring, "My intentions were good." Through June 24 at Raw & Co Gallery, 1009 Kenilworth Ave., 216-235-0635, www.rawandcogallery.com. -- Zachary Lewis
Arte -- More than paintings and prints, technique is what's truly on display in this informative show by nationally renowned Clevelander Phyllis Seltzer. And what a technique it is. Using heat transfer, Seltzer recasts oil paintings as prints on paper -- somewhat like posters, but without sacrificing brightness or archival durability. If anything, the prints are actually more vivid and a lot crisper. The copies and their originals are included here; the opportunity to compare them is the show's greatest strength. The work itself is equally interesting: In one colorful, fresco-like cityscape after another, Seltzer highlights similarities between the jammed, high-rising metropolises of New York and Cleveland, and old Europe's dense network of red rooftops and crowded alleys. She focuses particularly on Venice, her home away from home. In "Graphic Urbanscape," Seltzer fondly places Cleveland, with its many public landmarks, on a level with storied Rialto, an ancient part of Venice, whose festive, harlequin-like spirit she honors in "L'Anima Rialto." But the image most likely to mentally linger stands apart: "Central Park," a magnificent landscape scanning the park top to bottom from the wide-open perspective of a window washer outside a skyscraper, 80 floors up. From this vantage point, the buildings possess a rare immediacy, and the treetops coalesce into a strangely calm sea of green. Morning sunlight gently bathes the entire scene. For a moment, New York seems peaceful. Through May 27 at Convivium 33 Gallery, 1433 E. 33rd St., 216-881-7838, www.josaphatartshall.com. -- Lewis
Come Closer -- Rejoice, ye who mourned the late E. Gordon Gallery. Elizabeth Davis has launched a bright, spacious new venture downtown in the Tower Press Building, and its debut is auspicious. Inaugurating freshly whitewashed walls is a diverse collection of small, mostly abstract pieces by 20 local artists, many of whom Davis has shown previously; for followers of Cleveland art, it's a reunion. Meghann Snow makes a glorious return with "Unfit for Human Consumption," a wild mishmash of familiar nonbiodegradable materials: caulk, plastic, foam, wire. One foot square and deliriously colorful, it's like a birthday cake or piece of candy . . . only completely unnatural and toxic. Strangely, though, these are the omnipresent glues holding together modern life. Yet another man-made substance inspired Liz Maugans to create "My Little Red Bull," a bittersweet monument to today's rapidly maturing, overstimulated children. Text etched above a drawing of a child with a teddy bear lays out the kid's "Five Year Plan": a jam-packed list of babyish aspirations, full of corporate buzzwords like "upgrade," "diversify," and "invest." Like the sweet caffeinated drink of the title, the thought of such a twisted childhood verges on sickening. To cap it off, two antennas on the picture's frame evoke the ultimate time-waster: television. But on the anxiety scale -- and for sheer beauty -- nothing beats "Nervous" by Jen Omaitz. The texture of this deep, glossy red oil painting, streaked with jittery yellow ribbons, is akin to egg-drop soup. You could peer into it -- and be soothed -- for ages. Through June 1 at the Wooltex Gallery, 1900 Superior Ave., www.thewooltexgallery.com. -- Lewis
Daniel Rothenfeld -- Daniel Rothenfeld's art is among the zillion things that changed after September 11. As this diverse, occasionally stirring solo exhibition makes clear, the terrorist attacks shook the Bratenahl artist, leading him to explore new subjects and shift from glass sculpture to acrylic painting. Still, the older work is more consistently original and compelling. "Life," from 1989, is the finest example -- a sturdy, two-foot-tall human figure made from horizontal slices of glass. A deeply thoughtful creation, the piece illustrates the union of frailty and strength in every human being. What's more, it seems half-alive, with an icy-blue exterior giving way inside to a warm deep blue, like a pulsating core. Paintings after 2001 capture visions of peace and understanding that came to Rothenfeld unbidden. Many resemble hippie hallucinations or knockoffs of optical illusionist Julian Stanczak. A few, however, manage to evoke something legitimately unique. "Illumination," for instance, verges on myth. Here stands a fierce-eyed man, shirtless, at night, on some vast gray expanse surrounded by distant mountains -- the great salt flats, perhaps, or some remote highland lake. A bright moon hovers above, while falling stars become water droplets as they hit his face. What's transpiring isn't exactly clear, but it seems the man has submitted himself completely to nature; he's alone in wilderness, and now it's just him and the world. Through June 9 at Arts Collinwood, 15605 Waterloo Rd., 216-692-9500, www.artscollinwood.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. 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 28 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., 216-421-7350, www.clevelandart.org. -- Lewis
Shrinking Cities -- Spaces is known for treating subjects other galleries won't touch. Alas, here's one even Spaces should have left alone: Focused on three European cities and Detroit, the show rests on the fact that 25 percent of cities are getting smaller. That's an alarming figure and a potentially ripe theme, yet here it's completely undeveloped -- and blame for that goes straight to the artists. Most pieces are simply off-putting, dependent on rambling audiovisuals and dense, poorly written text to make their vague points, most of which don't even address the problem (never mind solutions). In a pair of photos called "Industrial Forest," Jorg Dettmer presents urban fringes reclaimed by grass and trees, and they're actually rather inviting. Plenty of cities work hard to create such green spaces, yet Dettmer seems to imply they're a bad thing. Or maybe not. Who knows -- the wall text is so full of buzzwords and art-speak, it approaches meaninglessness. One of the few interesting pieces is "Detroit Tree of Heaven" by Mitch Cope, Ingo Vetter, and Annette Weiser. A bench and stack of wood from a tree unique to urban wastelands, the installation celebrates nature's ultimate power. It's fair to wonder what a show about city planning is doing at an art venue, rather than an academic center for urban studies. But overlooking even that, the show's most baffling fault, at least here, is its neglect of Cleveland-specific issues. Hello! We're shrinking too! Through June 8 at Spaces, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314, www.spacesgallery.org. -- Lewis
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