Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

On View

Commercial Art -- There's a fairly deep line in the aesthetic sand between design and art for art's sake. But even as this 1300 exhibit claims to explore that fascinating boundary, it mostly just sticks to one side -- it's heavy on the commercial and frustratingly light on the fine. Organized by the Little Jacket design company and featuring work by Mike Burton, Ken Hejduk, and Joe Parlett, the show is highlighted by posters advertising concerts at the Beachland Ballroom. Some are quite clever, even memorable: One resembles an 18th-century print, with dark black ink on parchment-style paper; another, hung outdoors on the neighboring building, portrays the band in question as a musical beacon sending out radio signals over a bleak, flat city. A pile of shredded paper nearby suggests that creativity in design involves trial and error. Among the non-poster items, it's interesting to see a set of logos in their original state, before they've been attached to existing products. With arrows, swooshes, and various typefaces, they're definitely eye-catching, even with only "Your Name Here" emblazoned across them. No doubt a graphic-design instructor would give high marks to almost everything here, and no doubt the posters served their purpose well. Lacking more examples of commercial art, though, consider this merely an introduction to a rich topic. Through January 27 at 1300 Gallery, 1300 West 78th St., 216-939-1300, -- Zachary Lewis

The Historic Kirtland Toy Show -- Now 99, Viktor Schreckengost boasts an amazingly diverse résumé, to say nothing of his artistic pedigree. The founding father of industrial design in Cleveland, he started out as a celebrated ceramist, but also fashioned one of the first cab-over-engine trucks and developed radar object recognition for the military. Perhaps surpassing it all are Schreckengost's joyous toy designs -- in particular, his pedal cars. In 1938, when Murray Manufacturing Co. asked him to find a use for its surplus steel, he hastily designed a sleek 25-inch toy locomotive that launched a 34-year career. Always keeping the child's desires foremost, he created pedal toys -- police cars, ice cream trucks, airplanes -- that were as ergonomically sound as they were elegant, characteristics he later encouraged as an instructor. (Among his achievements: adding the first ball-joints to toy wagons, allowing them to safely turn rather than tip.) This retrotastic show invites us to share in Schreckengost's work from the 1930s to '50s. Among almost 20 objects on display, a silver-and-red Murray Pursuit Plane (1940s) is a standout, still evoking a childlike desire to soar through the air. Pieces for the exhibition are culled from the collection of Larry Waldman, owner of the online vintage-toy resource Cybertoyz. Through February 20 at the Historic Kirtland Visitors' Center, 7800 Kirtland-Chardon Rd., Kirtland, 866-584-9805. -- Tami Miller

Tetherball Madness -- Jay Croft and Brett Holzworth, the two Akron artists featured in this quirky little exhibit, have friendship, humor, and stylistic traits in common, but they're hardly carbon copies of one another. Comparing their paintings and drawings on wood is the show's main draw. Croft, who seems to come straight from the world of underground comic books and alternative cartoons, is the more deliberately crude of the two: In his works, ugly, pitiful creatures and people, drawn on thick pieces of painted wood, express strange thoughts and engage in even stranger activities; in one, a miserable-looking guy, eyes downcast, walks away from an old car, muttering "Fucking automobile" under his breath, with palpable bitterness. Holzworth's creations are bigger and more lovable: Each of his 18 sluglike "Huggable Henchmen" gets its own large, bare-wood panel, nickname, and oversized personality. Among them are "Stilts," a lanky basketball player, and "Killa Cal," a bling-wearing rapper. Oddly, the blobby green oaf grabbing his yellow-stained crotch in "Leaky Wiener" is as cuddly as Winnie the Pooh. Fun as Holzworth's Henchmen are, he strikes gold in an altogether different vein: "Burberian," an enraged Viking painted on a girly pink-diamond pattern, could be the best artistic representation of consumerism in existence. Through February 3 at Inside-Outside Gallery, 2688 West 14th St., 216-623-8510, -- Lewis


Group Show -- Bella Dubby's small exhibit of local works may be the young gallery's finest to date. Kate Schneider's large, socially conscious color photos are the most affecting: In particular, the moment she captures with "Prayer in Kosovo" -- a crowd of tired, weatherbeaten old men huddled in public prayer, their palms cupped before them in gestures of dire need -- is positively stunning. Josh Foster's voice is more personal, but it's just as compelling. Rather than a pencil's versions of gray, he uses a palette of colorful pastels to shade his drawings of women. But garish they aren't: Green, yellow, and red combine in "Sunshine in April" to suggest extremely bright light -- so bright, in fact, that they transform the pretty, smiling girl bathed in it into an angelic being. Bethany Browning's close-up photographs of glass objects lack consistency, but she's onto something lasting with "Sound Pool," a bowl of water with blue marbles so rich in color, the whole thing looks like some magical communication device. Technically accomplished, with a dark surreal streak, oil painter Joseph Close is responsible for this show's most unique entries, including "Vessel," a scene depicting human figures melting into a river as viewed through a tunnel. This one alone could keep a discussion rolling for hours. Through January 31 at Bela Dubby, 13321 Madison Ave., Lakewood, 216-221-4479. -- Lewis

Growing Up -- More an environment than an exhibit, this cohesive little show by Cleveland Institute of Art student Brooke Inman immerses visitors in the past while inviting them to examine the present and future from that perspective. A 10-year-old might have created Inman's pictures of her childhood home -- and she wants us to imagine that one did, even though the black-and-white images are actually detailed prints made to resemble old photographs. This is also the case with a series of self-portraits, which depict Inman as resolutely cheerful, despite braces and bad hair, during some awkward, prepubescent phase. More affecting is Inman-as-a-child dreaming, on paper, of her future home, a perfect suburban dwelling complete with basketball court. She even pays tribute to fort-building, that quintessential childhood pastime, with a carpeted nook formed from an overturned sofa. Inside are two artist books with copies of the prints on the walls, turning the fort into a sort of study. The real coup de grace, though, is right in the front window: a walled-off section of the room that appears to be stuffed from floor to ceiling with old toys, a child's hidden stash. Adult artists reverting to childhood can grow tiresome quickly, but Inman's show is too small for that. It manages to prompt reflection on significant questions about what we decide to discard, gain, and hold onto as we age. Through January 21 at Raw & Co Gallery, 1009 Kenilworth Ave., 216-781-2211, -- Lewis

New Work by the Old & Defeated -- Historical and literary figures fallen from glory are the focus of this small, tightly knit show by Cleveland Institute of Art student Jess Wheelock. Problem is, it's not always clear why their various downfalls require artistic development. Wheelock is at her best with Shakespeare: A series of cartoonlike, pencil-and-beeswax panels titled "Howl, Howl, Howl, Howl" portray the decline of King Lear, who, addressing his own inner tyrant, starts to rant in a dignified way; he ends up a shriveled, shrunken thing, begging for help. Ophelia turns up as a blurry-faced, misshapen fetus made of copper, multiple versions of which hang in small bags of water on the wall. It's powerful commentary on one of fiction's most tragic figures, a girl dead practically before her life began. In a set of yellowed drawings suggestive of daguerreotypes, Wheelock humorously reveals a pitifully drunk Annie Oakley and a lonely James Buchanan. She goes a bit too far, however, with Mary Todd Lincoln, who became mentally ill after her husband's murder. Wheelock constructs a hand-drawn, cloth-and-paper figurine, gives her a paper Walkman, and places her on a model hillside with trees. The label to "Mary Todd Lincoln, Somewhere in the Forests of Illinois" says she's having a "meaningless epiphany" while the attached CD plays the Beatles' "A Day in the Life." Presumably we are to contemplate the contrast between this episode and Lincoln's historical stature, but unfortunately, the piece comes off more like a posthumous insult. Through February 11 at Brandt Gallery, 1028 Kenilworth Ave., 216-621-1610, -- Lewis

Thomas Frontini -- Convivium 33, a new gallery housed in an overhauled Catholic church, is an enormous artwork unto itself, with its high arched ceilings, intricately carved woodwork, and raised altar. It's also huge, with wall space sufficient for major shows and gathering room enough for a small cavalry. Its inaugural exhibit features the equally distinctive paintings of Cleveland Heights artist Thomas Frontini. Complex, poignant, humorous, and wildly allusive, Frontini's work harks loudly back to the Renaissance, when cherubs, angels, and other mythical creatures were prime painterly subjects; but he also keeps one foot planted firmly in the 21st century -- Hummers and airplanes are everywhere. His flat, mural-like pieces center around human subjects, which are often dwarfed by timeless landscapes and the animals, both real and imaginary, that inhabit them. Frontini's imagination is breathtaking, his interests vast. Juxtaposing old artistic clichés with modern reality is his best trick, exemplified in "Bold Future," in which two centaurs play badminton near nuclear towers. Best of all, he has a sense of humor, and he doesn't spare himself: In "Birth of the Great Balladeer," a young man with a guitar (Frontini as a teenager?) stands proudly, like Botticelli's "Venus," on a clam shell, this one supported by mermaids. We should be glad he went into art instead. Through January 29 at Convivium 33, 1433 E. 33rd St., 216-881-7328, -- Lewis

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