Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

On View
Ellen Careys Constructivist Portrait is on view through - August 20 at MOCAs Persistence of Geometry - exhibition.
Ellen Careys Constructivist Portrait is on view through August 20 at MOCAs Persistence of Geometry exhibition.

On the Flip Side -- Cleveland Institute of Art professor Sarah Kabot wields a sharp knife with exceptional precision, yet it's her quirky perspective that leaves an even deeper impression. These works on -- and in some cases of -- paper coach viewers to see the physical world as a compromise between positive and negative space. The show starts out small and then leaps to the gigantic. Virtuoso pieces "Blank" and "Grid" are sheets of college-ruled and graph paper whose blue lines have been surgically extracted. It's as if Kabot magically yanked out the paper parts, leaving nothing but thin veins of ink suspended in midair. The knife cuts the other way in an untitled photo of two trees with overlapping branches. Kabot leaves intact the part of the photos showing the trunks, but she carefully carves away the empty blue sky behind the branches. The startling effect is of two hands reaching out for each other -- a clear allusion to the central image in Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam." If Kabot has a thing for Michelangelo, "Reverse" must be her version of the Sistine Chapel. A floor-bound mirror image of the gallery ceiling, the room-size installation is an exact, paper-made replica of functional objects -- ductwork, lighting, and structural supports -- designed to be ignored. It's a stupendous technical accomplishment, but it's also a plea from an artist who would have us observe and engage with our surroundings more completely and profoundly. Through August 20 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, -- Zachary Lewis

The Persistence of Geometry -- The subject you hated in high school you'll embrace here: Geometry is the conceptual glue that holds together this mammoth exhibition underscoring the agelessness of pattern and repetition in art. New York curator Lowery Stokes Sims observed few limits in mining the show's contents from the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art; it touches on pretty much every major culture, period, and medium -- from paintings and sculpture to pottery and tribal masks -- with emphasis on the 20th and 21st centuries. Those who've spent time in CMA's modern wing will see many old friends, including works by Pollock, Close, Motherwell, LeWitt, Siskind, Bearden, and Miró. Few of these people had geometry on their minds at the moment of inspiration. More often, geometric shapes and patterns are the means to other ends; they become significant only in their visual context. As with the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia, the raison d'être of this exhibit is the pairing of objects whose only real link is a similar design motif. At worst, those connections are brilliant: a minimalist seascape by Hiroshi Sugimoto next to Brice Marden's color-field masterpiece "Sea Painting," for example. At best, they're downright spine-tingling. The most electrifying instance must be the ancient Egyptian weaving from 400 A.D.: Its tightly knit checker pattern is reflected in a porcelain Chantilly teacup from 1760 and in a high-resolution silver print of a sunflower from 1960. Presented together, they are almost more than the brain can handle. Through August 20 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, -- Lewis


The Birth of Genius -- Unique among the many displays nationwide celebrating the 100th birthday of legendary designer Viktor Schreckengost, this exhibition unveils rare sketches and design concepts from 1924 to '29, when Schreckengost was a student at the Cleveland Institute of Art (where he would eventually become the youngest faculty member in school history). In lieu of later masterpieces, the show features early school projects masterfully executed across a staggeringly diverse range. Whether sketching the human figure, designing a lamp, or conceiving a mural, Schreckengost excelled in every artistic attempt, lofty or mundane. He accomplished his task with unwavering finesse, understanding, balance, and attention to detail. A highlight among the figural sketches is "Nude Seated Female": Straight lines are nowhere to be found on this drawing of a seated woman -- only dynamic curves that set her in palpable motion. Perhaps the strongest harbinger of Schreckengost's design career is "Decorative Figure in Porcelain." Form and function unite stunningly in this design for an Art Deco statuette, its arched arm and flowing hair merging into a column that completes and supports the figurine. Of course, even the best of us has a bad day occasionally. Schreckengost's came during his sophomore year, when he sketched a male figure and apparently tried later to change its sex, adding breasts and bobbed hair with little success. But it's still a Schreckengost, and even this awkward piece has undeniable flair. Through August 18 at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 11141 East Blvd., 216-421-7403, -- Lewis

Black, White & Gray Series -- Working within strict boundaries of color, size, and medium, Cleveland native Rich Garr depicts the abstract concept of balance as the blurred and often lonely space between stark ideological opposites. Solid patches of pure black and white generally occupy extremities in these poster-sized, vertical, acrylic-and-caulk paintings on canvas, but it's the middle regions, where these contrasting colors mingle as gray, that really matter. Don't think red state or blue state, Garr is saying; think purple state. Same goes for good and bad. Fortunately, in 13 pieces, this simplistic message doesn't have time to get old, and there are enough variations on the theme to keep things interesting. "House" encapsulates the entire show in one frame: A tiny shack, perched atop an equally tiny planet, rests precariously along an arc of gray crêpe paper spanning the middle of the canvas like a bridge. Looming above and below are the requisite zones of black and white, only here they seem menacing: Not only are they much larger than the vulnerable outpost; they look as if they might swallow it whole. It's a powerful illustration of rationality as the minority. "Snow," meanwhile, is easily the most unusual and elegant entry. A sort of moral landscape, the painting juxtaposes feathery white flakes of caulk blowing serenely over ground that's black and barren. The point here isn't that the two areas meet -- it's that they don't. Like lines extending into geometric infinity, they never touch. Through July 1 at Brandt Gallery, 1028 Kenilworth Ave., 216-621-1610, -- Lewis

Florescence -- Emerging from a realist period, local painter Dana Oldfather fills her first solo exhibition in Cleveland with new "existential studies" exploring the complex and intrinsically contradictory nature of womankind. Her subjects, painted on board in flat, solid colors, are almost all variations on today's ideal of beauty: tall, thin, blonde or brunette, and stylishly dressed in low-slung pants and tight-fitting shirts. But the similarities end there. Each image represents a unique and intriguing blend of opposites. Physically, the women's skin looks soft, while their features and bony frames are angular and harsh. Their attitudes are even more enigmatic: They evade connection with their surroundings with averted eyes and disengaged postures, but it's hard to tell whether they're absorbed in thought or simply self-absorbed; either way, they are islands of calm. In "The Four," we see four women, their backs to one another, working in a kitchen either in icy silence or at a familial hum. Oldfather's subjects appear either caring or cruel, depending on the viewer's interpretation; the anguished man in "Carolyn Reclining" may be receiving close, thoughtful attention from his blond companion on the couch, but more likely he's being tuned out. The most touching scene here, "Cotton and Breathing," is a solo portrait. An orange-haired woman of exceptionally delicate frame pauses on the street, her hand on her chest. Maybe she's just catching her breath. Or maybe she's overwhelmed with a feeling we can only imagine. Through June 24 at E Gordon Gallery, 2026 Murray Hill Rd., 216-795-0971, -- Lewis

Kanwischer x 2 -- Edmund and Charles Kanwischer are father and son, but you'd have to view their work side by side to tell they have anything in common. This show provides that opportunity for the first time. Problem is, the thin conceptual threads uniting the two artists aren't all that enlightening. Edmund, the father, a retired Illinois professor, constructs crude, rhombus-shaped, marginally interesting sculptures of multicolored wood and found objects. They're like geometric abstracts in three dimensions, and it's no surprise to learn that the artist studied with Rothko. It's helpful to imagine the structures as little houses reflecting vastly different personalities: Some are bright and friendly, with doors, windows, and open interiors, while others are dark, solid, and seemingly impregnable. (One of them, a gray box with a wire-mesh opening, might be a prison.) Charles, an instructor at Bowling Green State University, picks up his father's "Would you live here?" theme and fascination with wood, but reveals greater talent and polish in his "Real Estate Series." Using only pencil and silverpoint in astoundingly realistic drawings resembling faded black-and-white photos, he captures the dual personalities of empty rooms as places either inviting or forbidding -- depending on your view of so much empty square footage -- with shadows lurking in corners and behind doorways. He also lets viewers decide whether the perfect but lifeless new homes springing up on vast, windblown fields where trees once reigned represent progress or travesty. It's clear what the artist thinks, even if the point is well worn: Like his father, Charles prefers wood in its natural state. Through July 9 at Raw & Co Gallery, 1009 Kenilworth Ave. , 216-235-0635, -- Lewis

Late, Flakey, Vain, Selfish, and Sorry -- This show of work from Cleveland artists Steven Intermill and Joe Parlett will feed your desire for '70s escapism, but its nutritional value is up for debate. Intermill's inkjet designs on canvas feature a domestic zoo of brightly hued frogs, dogs, birds, and cats that spin and morph from one to another in vibrating circles and polka-dotted sun rays, above an outlined landscape of exotic spires and mushroom-shaped buildings -- pretty much the vibe of an old Grateful Dead album cover. Intermill describes his work as a means to escape the mundane details of everyday life and recapture some piece of his '70s youth, but exactly what he's grasping at is frustratingly unclear. Parlett, who favors oversized depictions of larger-than-life subjects, is less technically polished but strives for greater depth; consider him the witty smartass to Intermill's blissed-out stoner. His "Camera Shot," in pen-and-ink with colored washes, features a broad-shouldered executive with a cocked jaw, smirking for the cameras that flash around him. But also present in the margins are the man's tiny penis and hands, dropping in to pop his bloated ego. In a show that flaunts the flaky, at least it doesn't disappoint. Through July 1 at the Miller-Weitzel Gallery at Parish Hall Cleveland, 6205 Detroit Ave., 216-939-9099, -- Tami Miller

On the Verge -- The term "still life" takes on a whole new meaning in the complex photographs of Clevelander Karen St. John-Vincent. These aren't portraits so much as frozen moments full of potential energy, in which visual content usually isn't the actual subject. The camera's shutter becomes a metaphysical pause button, as St. John-Vincent presents viewers with whole scenes and asks them to imagine the mental and physical dynamics underway and how events might play out or be redirected. Like Harry Potter's friend Hermione Granger, with her magical clock, St. John-Vincent steps in just as something unfortunate or life-altering is about to occur. She even provides not-so-subtle clues to what's happening, by leaving people and objects in the background out of focus, shadowed, or washed out, and by overlaying lines connecting the most salient aspects of the composition. (Titles would be more helpful, but the lines do serve a purpose. Where they're densest within the frame is usually where tension or interpersonal bonds would be the thickest, if they were visible.) Often the lines resemble refracted beams of light -- natural phenomena that render the scenes both familiar and surreal. Sometimes, though, they appear to be actual strings, and these generally seem contrived or excessively vague. One of many effective images shows a tuxedoed groom sitting in a background room while his bride stands in the foreground, just outside the door. Lines beam across the space between the couple like lasers as the newlywed woman hesitates, unsure how to proceed with married life. Through June 30 at 1300 Gallery, 1300 West 78th St., 216-939-1300, -- Lewis

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