Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

On View

All Digital -- Still lobbying for separation of art and computers? This exhibit will counter your most defiant belief in the primacy of traditional media. Just try to experience John Simon's work without wonder, let alone brush past it quickly. His "Endless Victory" has all the color of a Mondrian painting, though it consists only of a rimless laptop screen, its surface constantly in motion with tiny dots moving antlike along ever-shifting paths. The most elaborate of Simon's many entries, "Victory" is also the only one that appears to spin on multiple axes; painters have executed some fancy tricks over the centuries, but nothing like this. In Leo Villareal's "Instances," three black screens covered in tiny white lights display a sequence that looks and even sounds like fireworks; it may not be the grandest technological achievement here, but it's magical nonetheless. Still not convinced? Walk into the room where Charles Sandison has set up cameras displaying the complete text of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. Typewritten words skitter randomly over dark walls, forming meaningless phrases that exist for only a few seconds. Imagine refrigerator-magnet poetry, only many times larger and operated by some divine, invisible force you experience physically rather than just visually. Through May 7 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, -- Zachary Lewis

Cavalcade of Oddballs -- Matt Dibble's reputation rests primarily on his paintings, but his drawings, exhibited here for the first time, deserve equal attention. Credit the Studio of Five Rings -- an unusual downtown gallery that doubles as a winery and martial-arts school -- for introducing us to them. While his paintings tend toward bold, large, colorful abstracts in oil, Dibble's drawings are black-and-white, introspective, and at least partially figural. They're also smaller -- about the size of a sheet of paper -- but their concentrated feel and nearly perfect sense of composition make them seem expansive. Shapes, animal-like figures, and fragments of human faces intertwine in several perspectives simultaneously in a loose, cubist manner that evokes Picasso. Given the ink's light, confident application, though, the drawings also have the air of Chinese brush paintings. Even Surrealism makes an appearance in the masklike faces and the limp stitching pattern Dibble occasionally employs. Unfortunately, vague titles like "Pointy Idiot" and "Taller Every Second" represent various aspects of Dibble's personality and psychological makeup, rather than providing any clues about the pieces themselves. Judging by the selections, Dibble is a profound, complex soul whose work is well worth getting to know. Through March 4 at the Studio of Five Rings, 2400 Superior Ave., Ste. 201, 216-771-0830, -- Lewis

Drawn, Exposed, and Impressed -- The first in a series of shows presented by the art museum at the Museum of Contemporary Art, this small collection of recent works on paper covers vast aesthetic territory efficiently and attractively. Among the drawings is an unforgettable charcoal view of Cleveland's lakeshore by Laurence Channing, as well as Chuck Close's portrait of a young, wild-haired Philip Glass (titled "Phil Spitbite"), composed of Close's trademark tiny squares and shaded circles. Tops in the "exposed" category are Spencer Tunick's "Ohio 4," photographic evidence that hundreds of Clevelanders really did get naked outdoors one chilly morning in 2004, and Bert Teunissen's "Nuit St. Georges #8," an inkjet photo of a woman posed in an elegant sitting room, which rivals the subtlety of any Dutch master's still life. Printmaker Neil Welliver spared no pain to create "Stump," a multicolored woodcut print crawling with moss, ferns, and shoots. By contrast, black and white are all Richard Serra needs in "IV Hreppholar" (a city in Iceland), an etching made with a thickly scarred slab of basalt. The piece resembles a dried patch of tar, and you may find yourself entranced by the beating it's seemingly endured. Through May 7 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-7340, -- Lewis


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, -- 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

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

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

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

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. Through January 29 at Convivium 33, 1433 E. 33rd St., 216-881-7328, -- Lewis

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