Light to Spare – Art and light go way back — think Dutch masters, the Impressionists, etc. That's what makes this little show so fascinating: Four contemporary artists prove that natural light still matters in this electric age. Philadelphian Morgan Craig speaks Cleveland's language in several large, photo-realistic, oil-on-linen paintings in which light transforms abandoned industrial spaces into touching testaments to impermanence. Finest is "Every Man Builds His Own Castle of Sand," in which sunlight bathes in radiance a dilapidated, rusted-out shell of a shopping arcade. As Craig paints it, the structure is more than a jolting symbol of fragility. It's a once-glorious place enjoying a last hurrah. Something similar happens in Brooklyn artist Lea Bertucci's ingenious installation "Aberrations." A Plexiglas container hanging from the ceiling shows 3-D video footage of an apartment-building wall with windows and fire escapes. Visually, it's a dull subject, but Bertucci's treatment brings it to life. A show about light wouldn't be complete without someone simply pointing skyward, and few could have done so more poetically than Phillip Andrew Lewis, of Youngstown. His "On a Clear Blue Day, You Can See the Sky" consists merely of seven lights in the floor casting a blue patch on the ceiling. Craning to look up, your natural reaction is to wonder when you last paid attention to the real thing. – Through January 4 at SPACES Gallery, 2220 Superior Viaduct, Cleveland, 216-621-2314. — Zachary Lewis
Martin Ball – You probably didn't realize geometry has a philosophical side, but that's what you'll discover in these fascinating oil-and-wax paintings by Ball, an English-born Kent State professor. The show consists of nine pieces from two series: "Carceral" and "Erasure." Both hail from the late 1980s and early '90s, and both are debuting in the U.S. They stem from the same basic blueprint: carefully painted grids overlaid with meticulous, spirographlike arcs. But there are a few key differences. The paintings in "Carceral" (think prison) look like plaid accidents: The grids are black, and the arcs, vibrantly colorful, float above and through the bars. In "Carceral 1," yellow arcs radiate across a densely gridded, mostly black background, like bolts of neon at night. The "Erasure" images, by contrast, resemble giant, smudged thumbprints or swarms of locusts: All are ghostly black-and-white, and the arcs are blurred at points by the grid in an organic, cohesive system. The physicality and rhythm of the abstractions offer plenty to savor, but Ball is deeper than that. He seems to be portraying the cosmos, with the grids representing ethics and laws. These are two worldviews — one where rules are created, to be obeyed or disobeyed, and another where principles are internal, built into our genes. It's a profound conceptual foundation, and the implications linger long after the show. Through December 21 at Exit (a gallery space), 2688 West 14th Street, Cleveland, 330-321-8161. — Lewis
Beyond the Line — MOCA had its hands full installing these vast, intricate "hybrid constructions" by New Yorker Diana Cooper, who enjoys her first solo museum exhibition here. The effort was worthwhile, at least for us. Beneath all the colorful, elaborate trappings — Cooper's imagination is staggering — is a conceptual foundation that's clear and solid: Even complex systems are subject to chaos. "Emerger," a recent creation, strikes the deepest personal chord. Pink and white ribbons and red felt buttons take over an entire wall. But unlike several other entries that resemble circuit boards, this evokes a soft, living creature, complete with organs, arteries, and blood — a portrait of human frailty. Cooper's grandest and timeliest gesture is "Orange Alert UK," a room in which warnings get into your face from all sides, like a booby-trapped dungeon: an immense paper sunburst here, large, pointy shards of orange foamboard there. It's her depiction of a flawed terror-alert system. "Experiments in 3D" is a doodle gone wild — a tour de force of brownish scribbling marked by concave and convex patterns. Through December 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, 8501 Carnegie Avenue, 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. — Lewis
Meditations — A year has passed since the grievous murder of Cleveland artist Masumi Hayashi. Time to start measuring the loss. This thoughtful survey is one of three on display in Northeast Ohio, and just like the artist herself, it forges many distinct characteristics into a single experience. The show spans some three decades, capturing a photographer who was true to the aesthetics of Cubism, collage, and mosaic. Oldest here are color-print collages, early examples of Hayashi's deep interest in patterns. For a time, she also explored 3-D photography, relishing its disorienting effects. But her greatest works are "mappings" — large, panoramic images composed of overlapping photos shot at slightly different heights, angles, and times. Hayashi transformed average places into complex, kaleidoscopic landscapes. In one, an image of the West 25th Street Rapid station, a hub for the working poor becomes a crystalline palace flecked with red. Shooting a temple in India, she juxtaposes a statue of a god with an exotic-looking peasant, presenting both as divine entities inside a magical, resplendent place. But most poignant are her personally meaningful subjects. One is Hayashi's 2004 composite portrait of Ed Ezaki, an elderly former resident of a Japanese internment camp, who Hayashi renders as a friendly man full of memories. Ezaki survived the horrors of war and racial segregation. Sadly, he also may have survived Hayashi. Through December 15 at Cleveland State University Art Gallery, 2307 Chester Avenue, 216-687-2103. — Lewis
Reverberation — Ohioan Audra Skuodas' bold but sensitive abstractions won't save Earth, but they may align you more closely with it. Whether painting with acrylic on large canvases or pencil-drawing on vellum, Skuodas capitalizes on the inherent graces and rigidities of physics. She'll map out a perfect grid, then apply sensual but orderly curves, like sound waves, or more freewheeling, balletic strings of color. To underscore the point, she'll include a female figure, gaunt and bent over backwards, floating in a yoga-like position of submission to the visual rhythm. Vellum gives these images a ghostly aura. "Pattern, Structure, Archetype Series" is two paintings back-to-back. In one, loops of red, silver, and pink arc freely against a sea of baby blue. Its mate is more primordial: Pastel-colored lassos float serenely against gray, like sperm under a microscope or quasi-human figures posing as a group. The four-part "Vibrational Vulnerability Series" is more complete conceptually. Beneath it are pencil-drawn grids, then evenly spaced curves in red or black, gently dipping and rising like sine waves. One picture includes the now-familiar woman, presumably signifying Skuodas herself, held by some invisible force while hovering blissfully amid the waves and bars. Her particles are practically dancing to the rhythm of the spheres. Talk about being in tune with nature. Through December 21 at 1point618 Gallery, 6421 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, 216-281-1618, www.1point618gallery.com. — Lewis
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