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Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

Stella Vines Mary M is part of Syzygy at the - Shaheen gallery through May 13.
  • Stella Vines Mary M is part of Syzygy at the Shaheen gallery through May 13.
NEW

Syzygy -- The contemporary equivalent of the art museum's fine Phillips Collection of masterpieces, this is a Who's Who of art's cutting edge, from John Currin to Raymond Pettibon to Yoshitomo Nara. Brute honesty is the driving force in "Tom's Girlfriend," Dana Schutz's memorable portrait of an awkward teenager smiling through misery as she suffers the worst aspects of puberty. Stella Vine's "Mary M" is another unforgettable portrait in the expressionist vein, this of a frail, rosy-cheeked woman with carefully curled hair and big eyes, like a sickly Scarlett O'Hara. Kehinde Wiley, in a huge untitled painting, ingeniously frames an African American male as an ornate classical allegory; wielding a jewel-encrusted sword and slicing through his obstacles, the man might be courage personified, fully in control of his fate. Three large black-and-white drawings on exposed photo paper by Bruce Checefsky are stunning in their multilayered virtuosity, calling to mind images of vast galaxies. Similarly, the dilapidated house in Dirk Skreber's work seems to have landed on a completely different planet, thanks to the strange but wonderful effect of oil on a digital print. Lovers of contemporary art: Do not miss Syzygy. Through May 13 at Shaheen Modern and Contemporary Art, 740 W. Superior Ave., Suite 101, 216-830-8888. -- Zachary Lewis

ONGOING

Cleveland Institute of Art Graduates 2005 -- Despite its focus on drawing and painting, this enjoyable new show of works by graduating CIA seniors offers plenty of variety. There's room, in other words, for Jonathan Clemente's strangely fascinating monochrome bundles of random objects wrapped in yarn, like a spider's victims, alongside all the oil and watercolor. Meanwhile, Lindsay Alberding's dazzling constructions based on repeated geometric patterns -- her most impressive piece here, an untitled work, resembles a giant school of silver fish in dark water -- stand out markedly from Taylor Dell's simplistic landscapes cobbled together from paper, oil, and tape, and given cryptic narrative titles like "I Waited 45 Minutes but You Never Showed." Also ambiguous, but well done, is a painting titled "Tide," by Cecilia Phillips: A turbulent sea, painted in wide, jagged swaths of blue and white, pounds against a massive dark blob (a dead whale?) at the center. Andrea Libertini's large charcoal drawing titled "Eurydice" touches on the historical subjugation of women: It shows, obscured beneath layers of illegible type, a woman in Victorian dress, drawing a similarity between the status of a married woman in the 19th century and the mythological character's captive state. Similarly, the subjects of Heather McPherson's "Two Ladies" pose demurely for a portrait in which their faces apparently don't matter. Through May 22 at E. Gordon Gallery, 2026 Murray Hill Rd., 216-795-0971, www.egordongallery.com. -- Lewis

Contemporaries: 7 -- Todd Schroeder is a painter, but he's also a composer of sorts. His abstract pictures in this exhibition of works by seven local artists bear witness to an intuitive grasp of music's fundamentals. The paintings, sprinkled with colored dots radiating into larger circles and networks of horizontal and vertical lines, share a pulsating, measured quality that recalls printed music and presses "play" on a viewer's mental record player. Meanwhile, Yong Han's slick, jittery oil-on-masonite paintings (e.g. , "Inferno I") are as prickly as barbed wire; dashes of white paint, rapidly and angrily wiped away, swirl violently across the surface. Dan Tranberg blurs the boundary between pure and unaltered reality in a group of intriguing new photographs. Half involved digital manipulation, half didn't, and the difference is tough to detect: Some sections look real, but are partly fake; others appear unnatural, but are real. Similar in that respect are Anthony Mastromatteo's trompe l'oeil paintings: The green and caramel apples in his "Sweet and Sour" stand out realistically on a tile counter, while his "Is Not" would make anyone swear there's really a two-dollar bill taped to the wall. Through April 30 at the Bonfoey Gallery, 1710 Euclid Ave., 216-621-0178, www.bonfoey.com. -- Lewis

Dissent: Political Voices -- Spaces' hard-hitting new exhibit of up-to-the-minute political art takes aim at numerous cultural preoccupations. A set of silk-screen-and-oil-stick pictures by Kayrock, Jef Scharf, and Michael Smith presents detailed, colorful, and humorous summaries of the national mood in such pieces as "Guarded Severe." Jason Byers' "Study for a Full Scale Assault," four satirical photos of a tiny tank made of birdseed, taking aim at downtown, seems to suggest that a terrorist attack in Cleveland is not a concern. Fans of the famous Disney rodent may be disturbed by Billie Grace Lynn's "Dead Mouse," a gigantic blowup lying on its side, drooling blood. Rutherford Chang's "Shredded Newspaper" illustrates the effect of a depressing front page. To make the point that the news can seem too strange to be true, Chang sliced a cover into thin strips and recombined them out of order, making the page look vaguely familiar, yet utterly foreign. Not everything in Dissent is so intelligent or broadly relevant. A third of the show might be described as blunt political pap, including Brett Colley's wallpaper screenprint, "Where Wings Take Dream," an American flag peppered with bombs, oil drums, skulls, and dying soldiers. Nothing subtle about that. But this exhibit asks whether political art can be effective. Judging by Dissent, the answer is yes. Through June 10 at SPACES, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314, www.spacesgallery.org. -- Lewis

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

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

Michael Flohr and M. Todd Muskopf -- Stylistically, these new paintings are about as unoriginal as can be. Each artist employs an approach toward impressionism handed down from an era long past -- their subject matter included. Muskopf applies thick helpings of solid-color paint to form a dappled and rather garish image that dries into a pointy, three-dimensional surface, whose primary selling point is that it creates its own minute shadows. His landscapes feature all the typically beautiful vistas, including mountains, lakes, and forests. The most interesting of these is "Maple Blaze," showing a large, rotund tree at its colorful autumn peak. Unlike Muskopf, Flohr goes for a thinner, slicker-looking surface, and his impressionism favors wide, rectangular strokes. He is interested in city scenes -- specifically, in the effect of light bouncing off wet pavement, as in "City Reflections," and in light as seen through the scrim of rain. Think Thomas Kinkade, only considerably more realistic and without the religious overtones. "Royale Street" shows a rainy view of central New Orleans at dusk that wouldn't be too bad, had Flohr not extended the image onto the frame. A painting that might have been of nominal interest got dragged back into the realm of the hokey. Through May at Dick Kleinman Fine Art, 12210 Mayfield Rd., 216-421-8484, www.dickkleinmanfineart.com. -- Lewis

Nina Bovasso -- Stepping inside the new painting installation by New-York-based artist Nina Bovasso at the Museum of Contemporary Art is as exciting as going for a ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Her huge -- and unfortunately -- temporary design on the rotunda gallery's curved wall looks like paisley gone mad; it surrounds the viewer with an almost dizzying spinning effect. The eye scans the perimeter and flits about the room, frantically seeking visual balances on either side of the circle between a psychedelic array of tall flames, dots, branches, buttons, and swoosh patterns, while the brain seizes almost subconsciously on matching colors across this huge carnivalesque palette. Bovasso fixed her own pictures to the wall like large 21st-century diptychs, then painted new designs that grow around, toward, and away from them like ivy. One near the window is a big, red explosion of paint that seems to spew more design fragments into the atmosphere. No two perspectives are alike in this gallery. Views and responses to those views change according to the focal point and the viewer's position in relation to it. Bovasso spent a week climbing up and down ladders to complete the installation. It's a wonder it didn't take her longer -- and that she didn't fall off. Through August 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Lewis

Once Familiar -- Claustrophobia may be your first reaction to this exhibition in the museum's sky lounge of works by four local artists. If you use the museum's spiral staircase, you will watch the ceiling get closer and closer, until you enter by poking your head through Carol Hummel's utterly unforgettable installation. Like Spider-Man on drugs, Hummel has spun a thick, multicolored web of yarn over both the gallery's open areas, complete with grandmotherly cozies over parts of the railings. Simultaneously abstract and immediately tangible, Hummel's work here questions the tame identity of yarn as well as its history as a medium. It won't seem quite so familiar after this. (A corresponding video project by Carey McDougall and sculptures by Dylan Collins were not yet in place, as of an early visit.) Just as devilishly creative and playfully subversive as Hummel's installation, though, is a series of faux-antique chairs by Stephen Litchfield, positioned like sentinels around the yarn. Narrow and wobbly, with cracker-sized seats and disproportionately high backs and long legs, Litchfield's humorous constructions are quite useless for sitting -- at least for human sitting. Otherwise, they're made to look exactly like their practical counterparts and would be considered fine furniture in the real world. Through August 14 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.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

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 François 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

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