Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

On View

Alexander Reyna -- At first blush, these seven large paintings by New Yorker Alexander Reyna evoke the spirit of the '60s, that distinctive blend of giddy oblivion and free-love depravity fueled by political dissatisfaction and fear of nuclear war. In fact, they're significantly more complex -- powerful illustrations of how closely that older era mirrors today's bizarre national mood. Techniques from graffiti art and surrealism heavily inform collages of war planes, missiles, spiraling smoke, flowers, and rainbows. Reyna also ventures into Futurism, indicating a more modern period, throwing Star Wars-like fighter jets and killer droids into the mix. But there's nothing random or impulsive about these paintings. They're all far too balanced, the pieces interlocking too smoothly and seductively to have been painted without forethought. Then there's the racy stuff: Embedded in half the pictures are messages of sexual freedom, in the form of shadowy, faintly drawn women, topless and masturbating. In "Death Star Mother F'er," one of the most striking images, a fleet of World War II planes stands out against a blood-red sky, while bombs trickle out beneath them. That's just the top half. Below all this, Reyna ingeniously connects a drawing of a hip-hop MC, posed like a gangster, into the outline of a woman who lies spread-eagle, fingering herself. It's all just like the world in 2006. Bombs are flying and people are dying, and there's nothing else to do but pump it up and get it on. Through October 7 at Miller-Weitzel Gallery, Parish Hall, 6205 Detroit Ave., 216-939-9099, -- Zachary Lewis

Street Repairs -- Art can't solve the world's problems, but it can get things moving in the right direction. Thus it is with this high-minded group exhibition devoted to urban ills. Though the solutions presented are neither realistic nor thorough, such fresh, lucid perspectives on city life must be counted an unqualified good. An artist called Poke combines painterly talent with a simple but revolutionary idea for bettering the world. "The Knight Owl," a massive, virtuoso graffiti signature spread over wall and floor, invites close inspection of an art form frequently viewed from afar, from the safety of a passing train or car. At the same time, it pleads a rather powerful case for enlightenment: Give up viewing spray-painting as vandalism, and suddenly graffiti transforms into a most welcome adornment. Jake Beckman's "Urban Core Samples" likewise serves dual ends, though it's never clear what specific problem it addresses. These smooth-topped chunks of asphalt, dirt, piping, and concrete do more than expose the strangely complex, multilayered world beneath our feet; they also suggest that our city's core is filthy, like Hamlet's rotten Denmark. But Mark Riegelman's "Home Sweet Home" represents the most creative, if impractical, upgrade to urban infrastructure. Rather than drab waiting pens, he imagines bus stops as cozy, wallpapered living rooms, complete with chairs, lamps, books, and warm beverages. Imagine how society would benefit from so many calmed nerves. Through October 20 at SPACES, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314, -- Lewis


Drop -- Think of "drop" in terms of a distribution hub or collective gathering space. That's the only sensible explanation for this five-person group show, which pairs local talent with artists from Holland. But it all fits under the new AARTCorp gallery's deliberately nebulous identity: The name stands for Applied Aesthetic Research and Technology Corporation -- a generic, connotation-free label that implies nothing and imposes no restrictions. Happily for this show, the highlights are evenly divided between the continents represented. Dutch artist Karen van de Vliet takes graffiti to high artistic and technical levels in a set of portraits digitally printed on canvas. Imagine Rembrandt as a punk with a laptop: Composing on a computer, van de Vliet pieces together and overlays patches of light, semitransparent hues to form cohesive images. In her eyes, an immense Afro on a joyous Rastafarian becomes a ball of patchwork quilts, and the loud colors she uses mirror the character's presumably larger-than-life personality. Clevelander Ron Tucker experiments with India ink in a series of small, untitled, ribbonlike strokes on paper. He displays a profound grasp of the medium through stunning variations in hue, definition, and density of tone -- everything from light speckles to the blackest of solid blacks. The subtlety here is on par with the work of an ancient master of Japanese calligraphy. Through September 30 at AART Corp, 2026 Murray Hill Rd., 216-421-0704, -- Lewis

Hidden Images -- Be sure to read the gallery notes at this small but hard-hitting exhibition; otherwise, half the power of Austrian-Israeli artist Wolf Werdigier's mysterious, expressionistic, and tremendously varied paintings will remain buried. Accompanying each image is a personal testament from a real Israeli or Palestinian, whose dreams and stories Werdigier analyzed and then rendered in acrylic or oil. It's a long-term project, brought here in honor of CSU's new Middle Eastern Studies program. Every painting delivers a humanistic punch, and current tensions only amplify their effect. In "Life on Hold," wide, agitated slashes of black, red, and dark green crudely outline a figure burying his face in his arms. He's sitting at a desk against a bleak background, near a phone he's dropped. This anonymous grief is moving enough, but it's more potent still as a metaphor for the limitations and disruptions Palestinians regularly endure, or as a depiction of someone receiving news of another suicide bombing. "Fear of the Strong" pulls on a different cord: Dark brown tones prevail as a beam of light streams down upon a soldier frozen in position, pointing his gun at a huddled, faceless mass. The reality behind the image is complicated. An Israeli soldier searching for enemies came upon a group of older people and was overwhelmed to imagine himself as the aggressor and them as his relatives being deported to Auschwitz years before. It's a pregnant moment, sure to stop viewers in their tracks. Through September 23 at Cleveland State University Art Gallery, 2307 Chester Ave., 216-687-2103, -- Lewis

Lost Treasures Unveiled -- Maximilien Luce wasn't a terribly original painter, so few people today are familiar with his work. But everyone knows Luce's colleagues, fellow Neo-Impressionists Pissarro and Seurat, as well as Monet, his stylistic progenitor. Spotting evidence of these influences in Luce's output is almost too easy, but it's the primary pleasure in Contessa's new 40-piece exhibition. The other is simply discovering an artist rarely shown in the U.S. Raised among Parisian workers but academically trained, Luce dabbled in everything from genre paintings and idealized landscapes to fairly realistic depictions of lower-class life. Books label him a Pointillist, but here you'll see wider strokes lacking that style's trademark discipline. The atypical pictures reveal Luce in pure form and are thus far more compelling than traditional fare. Most intriguing is "Madame Luce." The artist's wife couldn't have been too flattered by this rather frumpy image, her face blurred, indiscreetly posed with her blouse slipped far down her shoulder. But she may have been swept up in its creation; Luce painted the portrait on newsprint, which suggests a moment of spontaneous inspiration. Among his tributes to working-class life, look for two called "Les Debardeurs." Here are faceless dockworkers laboring in hazy, dim light in a remote, ugly location far from the lush pastures of Luce's other landscapes. He captures their quietly dignified personas with a drab palette of parched browns, muddy oranges, and faded blues. Like Luce himself, these men were probably worthier than their stations suggested. Through September 24 at Contessa Gallery, 24667 Cedar Rd. (Legacy Village), Lyndhurst, 216-382-7800, -- Lewis

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