The Splendor of Ruins -- Two-thirds of the total canvas space in this exhibition of 17th- and 18th-century French landscape paintings depicts dense, untamed forests and wide-open, sunlit skies, sweeping vistas that extend for miles. The rest consists of toppled pillars, crumbling porticos, and the occasional biblical figure or earthbound divinity. This is how painters at the time liked their Greek and Roman ruins: overwhelming. They imagined classical structures as positively massive relative to human beings and painted from perspectives exaggerating that effect. Painters turned to ruins to endow their landscapes with airs of timelessness and exoticism, though they also offer reminders that nothing is permanent. In Hubert Robert's "Young Girls Dancing Around an Obelisk," girls in white dresses playfully encircle a giant Egyptian sculpture fragment as if it were a maypole; they think nothing of the remnants of ancient cultures they see every day. Ruins tended to be in secluded areas -- ideal settings in which to place young men slyly caressing the breasts of maidens, fierce-eyed warriors reflecting on lost battles, and lonely folk leading home their cattle. Some, like Francois Boucher, went too far: His "Landscape With a Water Mill" is so idyllic, it could be the backdrop to a fairy tale. More often than not, though, these artists strike near-perfect balances between reality and fantasy. Through June 19 at Oberlin College's Allen Memorial Art Museum, 87 N. Main St., Oberlin, 440-775-8665, www.oberlin.edu/allenart. -- Lewis
34th Annual Student Art Show -- No curatorial theme unites this large display, yet palpable throughout is a sense of youthful daring, exploration, and independence -- and also a sizable dose of pessimism and dissidence. The downside of feminism is the subject of dark-toned prints by Matthew Kinzig, especially "Honey, I'm Home," in which a housewife carries a skull on a platter. Kelly Urquhart is among the most abundantly represented artists, and happily, her work never gets dull. She cries out against pollution in "Inherited Rustbelt Mutations," a painting of blackened, dilapidated internal organs, and then turns around stylistically with groups of small, aphoristic oil paintings and a grainy self-portrait such as Mary Cassatt might have made, had she employed pastels or charcoal. Yvonne Bakale's work is equally well represented, but entirely different: Colored dots and curved lines are motifs in her spare, abstract images; "My Zen" is a particularly strong example, with depth and multidimensionality. Similar yet strikingly unique is "Empty House x3," a collage that bursts toward the eye due to its juxtaposition of positive and negative space. An army soldier's belongings rest on a bed of sand in Stephanie Leonardo's "Ultimate Sacrifice." Though timely and effective, the arrangement appeals to a relatively cheap sentiment. A life-size lizard by Matthew Russo greets patrons at the entrance and lightens the mood considerably. Through May 6 at the Cleveland State University Art Gallery, 2307 Chester Ave., 216-687-2103, www.csuohio.edu/art/gallery. -- Lewis ONGOING Drawn With Light: Pioneering French Photography -- Digital cameras are ubiquitous as cell phones, but in the 19th century, capturing an image on film was an advanced and highly technological art. This exhibit of 19th-century French photography lauds the accomplishments of those who were on its cutting edge. Eugène Atget's photos exude the joy he must have felt, freezing the opulence of a wealthy Parisian's garden on paper. He did so with such crisp detail and bold outline, one can imagine the textures of the trees and stones. Others, such as Édouard Baldus and Louis-Remy Robert, had figured out how to convey the architectural majesty of cathedrals: Baldus offers a panoramic view of the Parisian Notre-Dame in all its buttressed glory, including details as fine as a nearby pile of bricks and the church's reflection in the Seine; Robert, meanwhile, presents the cathedral fountain in Saint-Brieuc as the yellowed relic of an ancient era. Gustave LeGray's "Portrait of Edmond Cottinet" is artfully blurry on the edges, but holds its subject in a softened but clear light. A picture by Frank Chauvassaignes contains one of the most unusual effects in the show, a somewhat impressionistic rendering of a stream receding beyond sight into the background. It must have been a photographic triumph. Through June 8 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., 216-421-7350, www.clevelandart.org. -- Lewis
March of Crimes -- Dissident only in the vaguest of senses, this small exhibit feels like a rally whose participants have neither a cause nor a message -- let alone much aesthetic interest. Of the four featured artists, Bob Peck is one of two worthy of consideration. His dripped-acrylic and spray-painted pictures may be a touch gaudy and sloppy, but at least they present intelligible concepts. His best is a busy view of an urban skyline tited "The City Never Sleeps." Two of Grant Smrekar's paintings, as well, offer some cause for marching. In an apparent protest of the Iraq war, what appears to be the camouflaged face of a Middle Eastern man stands out against a background of splattered red; at the top is printed, in blunt Army-style type, "My War." Smrekar's untitled image of Michael Douglas's gun-toting character in the film Falling Down hauntingly recalls an instance of protest going too far. Elsewhere, Ali Calis contributes an incoherent set of curved wooden panels painted with cartoon-like characters à la Matt Groening, and Nick Zaremba offers a collage of pink paper, figurine drawings, and cutouts from a textbook -- the visual equivalent of babbling. Through April 9 at 1300 Gallery, 1300 W. 78th St., 216-939-1300, www.13hundred.com. -- Lewis
Masterworks From the Phillips Collection -- Touring this group of highlights from the renowned Phillips Collection is like taking an art-history survey course on Impressionism and Abstraction, and the list of artists reads like the textbook's index: Monet, Manet, Courbet, Morisot, Cézanne, Delacroix, Corot, Ingres, Van Gogh, Goya, Bonnard, Braque, Matisse, Renoir, Degas, Picasso, Kandinsky, and Klee. Duncan Phillips, founder of the collection and wealthy heir of a steel magnate, displayed amazingly prescient taste, buying works by artists whose true worth was not always recognized at the time. Organized by period and subject matter, the show consists of 59 paintings that originally hung in the Phillips home, now a major national museum in Washington, D.C., in addition to 18 comparable works owned by Cleveland. Renoir's magnificent "Luncheon of the Boating Party" may be the best-known piece, along with a handful of Degas' ballet paintings and Matisse's "Etruscan Vase," but the exhibition is not short on less familiar works and less familiar names. Cubism gets a weighty nod via still lifes by Braque and Picasso, but the show ends on a whole note of pure abstraction with Feininger's elegantly geometric "Village" and four exotic musings by Klee. This is not a class to cut. Through May 29 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Boulevard, 216-421-7350, www.clevelandart.org. -- Lewis
On a Pedestal -- Chicago sculptor and guest juror Richard Hunt presents a mixed bag of media, techniques, styles, and quality between these 32 pieces. Most of the best selections reveal a virtuoso ability to manipulate a chosen material, as in "Trap," Brent Kee Young's stringy, cylindrical web of glass; "Deep Blue," Leo Price and West Vayo's elegant, semi-abstract brass whale fin; and "Pitch and Roll," Robert Huff's fine, leaf-like etching in a pillar of sandstone. Other memorable pieces include Molly Flanigan's "Envelop," a ceramic arrangement that looks like cancer overtaking enlarged human sinews, and Pamela DeCoker's envelopes and pouches made of dried acrylic. Other, less fortunate works lack either a compulsion for being or the ability to evoke more than a brief smirk from the viewer. Under this category fall Andries Fourie's "House of Bondage," an aluminum structure silkscreened with pictures of irons and wheelbarrows, and a blunt piece of the emperor's conceptual new clothing by Chris Helman titled "Pedestal Support No. 1." Still, anyone with an appreciation for sculpture in its many forms will find much to enjoy on these pedestals. Through April 15 at the Sculpture Center, 1834 East 123rd St., 216-229-6527, www.sculpturecenter.org. -- Lewis
Pulse: Energy Forms/Jim Hodges -- In Pulse: Energy Forms, Icelandic artist Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson uses silk, a thin and delicate material, to convey wide-open spaces and nature's most violent physical processes. Stars explode, radiating waves of light, all within the confines of painstakingly stitched six-inch-square panels. Intricate black squiggles densely packed on vellum outline the movement of tectonic plates, perhaps mapping the progress of an earthquake. Applying fabric dye to larger panels of woven silk in the compositions called "Glacier Tongue" and "Floating Iceberg," Jónsson suggests the grandeur of a fog-enshrouded valley or the towering immensity of the arctic icepack with breathtaking likeness. These powerful images cannot soon be forgotten. Jim Hodges, featured in MOCA's other new exhibit, also uses nontraditional materials, but to different ends and with more mixed results. His drawings, mirror paintings, and other sculptures realize complex mathematical, scientific, and self-reflective psychological concepts in beautiful ways, yet his wacky, multicolored light-bulb constructions are frustratingly abstract. "On We Go," a silver-chain spiderweb hung across a corner, gets darker near its origin and looks as if it could replicate itself forever. In an untitled picture, Hodges deftly cuts out portions of a large photograph, causing the leaves of a sun-dappled tree to appear to undulate in the wind or fall softly to the ground. It is the artist's most recently completed work and also his most stunning. Through May 1 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671. -- Lewis
Urban Passages -- Tucked into the second floor of the Tri-C West library, Urban Passages features two artists making intelligent visual points and counterpoints. William Chill offers views of factories and other urban landscapes that declaim Cleveland's waning status as an industrial city. He demonstrates great variety within his theme: The show opens with stunning semi-abstract charcoal drawings suggesting smokestacks and heavy industrial machinery. The wispy graininess of the charcoal creates an almost tactile effect of smoke and grime baked onto metal, while vast areas of white space contrast sharply with smaller but dense patches of bold black. Chill also offers photorealistic scenes of downtown showing the city's architecturally modern, well-organized -- even sleek -- side. Pam Gilliland, too, submits dynamic views of curvy highways and bridges. Unfortunately, the structural excitement of her designs is spoiled by a color palette that heavily favors pastels. In her paintings of intersecting telephone and electric lines as viewed from street level, some lines overlap to form pleasing geometric patterns, while others are less orderly. One or two of these might be called formally balanced compositions, but none presents a compelling subject, even in design terms. Through April 9 at Cuyahoga Community College West Library, 11000 Pleasant Valley Rd., Parma, 216-987-5322, www.tri-c.edu/art. -- Lewis
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