The Russian Eye -- If this show were a "safari," Anastasiy Safari would be the annoying guide who never stops talking. Brilliant as several images here are, the California-based photographer who created them spoils many more by attaching meddlesome titles and numbingly obvious wall text, making it difficult for viewers to comprehend or interact with his work independently. More problematically, many textual guidelines ascribe depth and meaning that simply aren't there. Happily, the exceptions together overshadow the rule, combining humor and happenstance into memorable compositions. "The Infernal Smile of Moscow" is a wide, nighttime exposure of a narrow canal or park lined by traffic-filled streets on both sides. Distorted through a fish-eye lens, the scene becomes a giant, red-lipped mouth, grinning dementedly as it emerges from the darkness around it. The Moscow tourism bureau probably won't be using that photo. In another blissfully untitled image, a large dark bird alights on a desert rock, mimicking a line of three similarly-shaped rocky formations behind it. It's almost too perfect: A bird that couldn't bear the asymmetry, and Safari happened to catch it. "Black Sea Oblivion" is considerably more ominous. Safari takes us at dusk to a misty round pool defined by boulders at the shore. Surface-wise, the pool looks much different and more mysterious than the sea itself, which is simply flat and serene. But the spell lasts only so long. At the horizon are two well-lit ships -- signs of civilization intruding on a nearly magical place. Until September 3 at Loganberry Books, 1305 Larchmere Boulevard, Shaker Heights, 216-795-9800, www.loganberrybooks.com. -- Zachary Lewis
Aminals -- As art exhibits go, this one's pretty wild -- or at least undomesticated. Pretension and polish are nowhere to be found in this offbeat, animal-themed collection of works by local artists, organized by Clevelander Shawn Mishak. Depth too is scarce, but at least there's an intellectual path through the zoo: that we humans aren't much different from our beastly neighbors. Josh Banaszak draws the connection most clearly in "Pregnant." Painting crudely on untreated plywood, he depicts a nude, pregnant woman in profile, neck to stomach. Her breasts and belly are swollen to bursting, but the pink circle representing her womb is what grabs your attention. Scrawled over it is the word "mammalian," making the point that gestation and live birth are traits common to countless species. Mandy Szostek illustrates our remove from nature and pays sarcastic homage to our media obsession in "Modern Urban Totemic Animism," a totem pole-like structure formed from televisions. But the real zingers are the charms on the wall: Instead of statuettes, there are a cigarette box, a prescription-pill container, and a Red Bull can -- gods, indeed. Jeff Pasek takes the most poetic tack, seeking animal equivalents for human tendencies. One discovery is "Sleep Cycle," the show's most beautiful painting, in which monarch butterflies, stuck in a treeless, orange-tinted landscape, find rest in dangling from mysterious white lines. They can't sleep without a little external assistance, and neither can most of us. Until August 13 at Doubting Thomas Gallery, 856 Jefferson Avenue, Cleveland, 330-687-3355. -- Lewis
In the Realm of the Gods -- Art, about a mother, who is in heaven, Krisztina Lazar be the name of thy creator: If Lazar's bold, highly accomplished paintings here could pray, this is what they'd utter, for they mostly pay homage, in lavish detail, to the Eternal Feminine -- the female essence uniting the cosmos. Witness her "Elements" banners, large wall hangings depicting fire, water, earth, and air as women whose outlines blend into their surroundings. Stylistically, Lazar, a Clevelander, is a Fantastic Realist, using Old World techniques to paint literal objects in impossible scenarios rife with symbolism. Most here were made using Mische Technique, a demanding process perfected by the Dutch masters, in which layers of tempera produce vivid colors and a shiny surface that seems to glow from within. A prime example is "Kosmic Mother." In this large vertical portrait, a regal woman, nude, with hair of water, hovers in space, cradling a snake and cuddling a vulture. Behind her are two spirals and several cycles of the moon. At her feet, a green-colored cherub. Think Botticelli's Venus, only on LSD. But the symbolism is clear: Woman reigns forever supreme over death through her power to create life. If "Mother" is the earthly sovereign, "Victoria and Amanda" are her maidens-in-training. Two tweens pose idyllically in a forest, clothed in leaves and welcomed by woodland creatures. They're perfectly serene and at one with their environment. We should all be so lucky. Until August 31 at The Wooltex Gallery, 1900 Superior Avenue, Cleveland, www.thewooltexgallery.com. -- Lewis
Mirror Matter -- Stemming from the mind of Cleveland toy designer Olga Ziemska, this brilliant sculpture exhibition unifies art, literature, and nature. It reflects a profoundly artistic world where nature's patterns are the stuff of art and disciplines overlap. It's impossible to pinpoint where poetry ends and sculpture begins in "Octavio," the show's gem. Its wall of dangling letters spell out the poem "Sight and Touch" (by Mexican American literary giant Octavio Paz) in large, gray letters -- formed from crusty sodium crystals -- which hang in ceiling-high columns from a transparent line. Spinning slowly in place and catching the faintest air currents, they tend to mimic the text itself, physically resembling "light," "a living body," and "curtain." More beautifully, they compel viewers to read slowly and savor both the sight and sound of each word. But "Chiromancy Point" and "Akasha: A Collection of Accident and Circumstance" form the show's breathtaking and truly site-specific centerpiece. A large triangle made from countless mirror shards -- many of which contain an image of some organic or man-made pattern -- adorn the gallery's glass wall. The opposite wall features a paisley-print-shaped stream of glass pebbles, each of which also includes an image. Viewed from the proper perspective, the two pieces merge to form a massive three-dimensional landscape of wind blowing across a mountain. And to think it's all based on the tiniest of artistic atoms. Through August 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, 8501 Carnegie Avenue, 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Lewis
Retreat -- Sarah Kabot. Sarah Kabot. Sarah Kabot. If the Cleveland-based artist behind this cunning little installation is correct -- if repetition does, in fact, invite attention and promote memory -- you should remember her name for weeks. That's a good thing. Kabot drills home her theory by piecing together an elaborate framework from white-foam beams. The three-dimensional lattice hangs delicately from the ceiling, suspended by a few strands of practically invisible fishing line and appearing to hover in the air. Viewed from inside the tiny gallery, the structure, ethereal as it is, is out of context and makes little sense. The real magic transpires outside. Viewed through the shop-front window, the structure syncs up with the white panes of the gallery's many windows, creating a regression of the geometric pattern running deep into the interior. Kabot's intention with this mesmerizing sleight of hand is subtle but powerful: By calling attention to the gallery's design so delicately and strikingly, she invites viewers to examine not only this place, but all places -- to pay more attention to the nuances of the architectural and natural worlds. This isn't groundbreaking stuff: What Kabot explores is a major tenet of minimalism. But her way of making the argument couldn't be more imaginative. Furthermore, the lesson to stop and smell the roses, or at least savor their visual qualities, is always worth repeating. Until August 10 at Raw and Co Gallery, 1009 Kenilworth Avenue, Cleveland, 216-235-0635, www.rawandcogallery.com. -- Lewis
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