Erik Neff — Neff, a local painter and draftsman, was recently included in a major museum exhibition in Cleveland. That made sense: It was a group show, and Neff's loosely geometrical abstractions, thickly painted on small canvases, fit into and benefited from the larger theme. But Neff alone is much harder to take. Here, the paintings seem entirely random, visually mute, driven by no particular concept or intention. One standout is "Nodule," in which a blue rectangle frames a light rising in the sky over a smudged, barren landscape. Some viewers detect environmental meaning in Neff's work. Perhaps there's something here about our sacrifice of the external world in pursuit of indoor lives. Who knows? Neff's drawings, meanwhile — small, incoherent improvisations in charcoal, ink, and pastel — are as dull as the paintings, but also flat and lifeless. No doubt Neff had something in mind with them, but there's no guessing what. In one of the more distinctive images, a dark eye seems to stare out mysteriously behind faint, jagged lines, like an ancient hieroglyph on a cracked cave wall. But that would be an act of communication, and there's none of that going on here. Through November 30 at Raw & Co. Gallery, 1009 Kenilworth Avenue, Cleveland, 216-235-0635. — Zachary Lewis
Reverberation — There's something wrong with the world today, but Ohioan Audra Skuodas can help. Her 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 willing submission to the visual rhythm. Vellum gives these images a foggy, ghostly aura. "Pattern, Structure, Archetype Series" is two paintings back-to-back. In one, carefully painted loops of red, silver, and pink arc freely against a sea of baby blue. Its mate is looser, 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 — some horizontally, some vertically. 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
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
From Here to Infinity — The Cleveland Institute of Art admissions staff's job just got a lot easier. This exhibition, marking the 125th anniversary of the CIA, provides concrete evidence to the wary parents of prospective students that, yes, it is possible to graduate from art school and make the pages of art-history books — let alone enough money to pay the rent. On display are works by CIA graduates who helped shape major artistic movements such as Art Deco, Op Art, and Minimalism. Richard Anuskiewicz, Ed Mieczkowski, and Julian Stanczak contribute eye-arresting acrylic and mixed-media hard-edged abstractions with color combinations that make the heart palpitate, while Robert Mangold's serene black-and-blue canvas is minimal in form, but large in scale. Other alumni, like Motorola design guru Bruce Claxton and Arthur the Aardvark originator Marc Brown, have left their mark with creative ventures outside of the fine-art world. The youngest and freshest contributor is 2000 graduate Dana Schutz, whose solo exhibitions of humorously grotesque paintings sell to collectors and museums around the world. The pieces on the walls and in display cases are arguably not the masterworks of their creators, but they reflect the wide reach of the influence of these 18 artists, who got their start in the studios of the CIA. Through October 27 at CIA Reinberger Galleries, 11141 East Boulevard, 216-421-7407, www.infinity2bang.com. — Theresa Bembnister
Gary Spinosa: Through Forests of Symbols — It's easy for today's art audiences to forget that for centuries, paintings and sculptures were purely functional, designed to enhance or evoke a spiritual experience. Gary Spinosa's mixed-media sculptures hark back to the days when art didn't just look pretty or express the individual's feelings, but served as a reminder of a higher power. Fashioned from clay, wood, fabric, and bits of bric-a-brac (can lids, bells, shotgun shell casings, etc.), and ranging in size from towering to diminutive, his works look like artifacts spirited away from some ancient Babylonian temple. A mid-career retrospective of sorts, this show includes pieces dated from 1973 to 2007, allowing viewers to follow the subtle differences in the organic forms and richly textured surfaces that developed over the decades. Spinosa's most intriguing pieces lie on small velvet pillows in a glass case near the gallery entrance; the "Assorted Stones" are palm-size porcelain sculptures reminiscent of both the handheld technological gadgets of today and the magical amulets of centuries gone by. Their small scale, opulent surfaces, and delicate details encourage close inspection. Through October 26, The Sculpture Center, 1834 East 123rd Street, 216-431-6300, www.sculpturecenter.org. — Bembnister
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