Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

On View
Picassos La Vie, part of Barcelona & Modernity at - the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Picassos La Vie, part of Barcelona & Modernity at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Barcelona & Modernity -- Instability breeds creativity. Cling to that underlying principle throughout this unique, immense, and also indigestible exhibition examining Barcelona's 1868-1939 transformation -- through war, artistic breakthrough, and social upheaval -- from provincial city into cultural capital. Catalonia (the Spanish region that includes Barcelona) built a formidable legacy at that time, with painters Miró, Dalí, a young Picasso, and many lesser-known talents. Famous works by each are abundant here, including Picasso's Blue Period icon "La Vie" and, later, Dalí's Surrealist calling card "Soft Construction With Boiled Beans." But the greater pleasure lies in savoring lower-profile masterpieces, such as Picasso's Cubist power metaphor "Cat Seizing on a Bird," and in rediscovering the gritty urban realism of Ramon Casas i Carbó, Isidre Nonell, and Santiago Rusiñol. The latter's "An Aquarium" is especially memorable, capturing the drab, perfunctory business of prostitution with all the honest elegance of Degas. Casas, too, leaves a deep impression with "The Garroting," depicting the Inquisition-like public strangulation of an anarchist. Ultimately, though, Barcelona bites off more than it -- or any viewer -- can realistically chew in one $15 pass. Organized chronologically and thematically on the museum's second floor, the show catalogs overlapping modernist developments in architecture and design. Most of it (for example, an analysis of the monumentally ornate Temple of the Sacred Family) is fascinating. But 300 pieces, including photographs, newspapers, posters, models, furniture, and technical drawings -- no matter their quality -- dilute the show's impact and exhaust even stalwart visitors. Still, it's good to see the CMA back in the art business on its own turf. Through January 7 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., 216-421-7340, -- Zachary Lewis


Catherine Opie -- Heavy doses of reality charge this ample two-part photo exhibition. The newer half, "In and Around Home," journalistically chronicles the tumultuous political, religious, and social scene in the artist's Los Angeles neighborhood, while the second, "1999," effectively captures the bizarre millennial anxiety that today seems almost quaint. The older pictures are stronger emotionally: eerily empty carnivals and factories, small-town stores, and gathering places seemingly left to rot. Atmospheres of fear, stillness, and decay predominate, as if humanity had forgone joy and order, and were simply abandoning ship. An untitled image depicting the "Old Timers Social and Pleasure Club" is a particularly sad case: All that remains of a once-dignified establishment is a decrepit building strewn with garbage. Opie also touches on environmental themes, mourning natural innocence in photos of slime-covered streams and pristine expanses tarnished by ugly development. But 1999 is practically idyllic next to the angry, divided, media-saturated America of today. In "In and Around Home," the tension is both deeper and more public in images of rallies pro- and anti-Bush, sports fanaticism, protest groups on the march, and omnipresent signs of religious devotion. Members of one family are seen trashing their television, as if they've had enough news. Once again, though, contrast is Opie's most powerful tool. Two large photos of the same cloud-covered sky differ on just one account: One contains a rainbow-colored kite, the other a menacing helicopter. Somehow, that says it all. Through December 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., $4, 216-421-8671, -- Lewis

Dana Schutz -- Just six years after graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art, New York painter Dana Schutz is back for the royal treatment -- and she deserves it. Robustly individual, intelligent, and equal parts shocking, grotesque, and humorous, Schutz's work unquestionably merits wider attention. There's no mistaking her style: colors hovering around gaudy, technique that's visceral and willfully primitive, absurd or impossible scenarios, thick globs of paint protruding into three dimensions. This is unique stuff that leaps off the wall and appeals on deep gut levels. Eighteen large paintings from 2002 to 2006 represent Schutz's output fairly well, touching on major themes and a few newer directions. Self-consumption as artistic progress is a key metaphor. In "Self-Eater #3," a distorted, head-heavy woman gnaws on her own leg. Similarly, in "Surgery," a group of doe-eyed women gather around a table to pick apart a human figure, as if playing Operation. Elsewhere, the subjects are rebuilding themselves, selecting new features and limbs from banks of human parts. These are self-contained beings, deriving nourishment from themselves and then regenerating -- much as Schutz does, in work that contains elements of many artistic movements, yet stands independently. Current events supply more lighthearted material while also giving evidence of Schutz's versatility. In "Men's Retreat," business tycoons and politicians stumble blindfolded through the jungle, beating drums and playing trust-building games. This is modern man. Ridiculously tame, domesticated beyond any trace of actual wildness. Through December 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., $4, 216-421-8671, -- Lewis

Degrees of Frank -- Twelve artists pool their talents in sculpture and video installation to honor Frank Green, a Cleveland performance artist, art critic, and all-around creative personality suffering from HIV and long-term memory loss. Unfortunately, noble intentions don't always add up to quality. One goal is to diminish the effects of memory loss by evoking or creating artistic memories Green may already have lost or would appreciate. These pieces are generally head-scratchers: cerebral, abstract, and personal, exclusive to the inner circle. Punning on Green's first name, a second group more successfully explores serious issues in quests of honest, unfiltered self-examination. Nancy Prudic's "Fear" sets up an imaginative process wherein viewers confront themselves as their own worst enemy. Dangling from this black paint-coated mirror are three scraping tools, to be used as pens for answering her question What are you afraid of? Eventually, in theory, less and less will obscure pure reflection, as viewers scrape away their answers. Only Michael Loderstedt's "Frank Thinking" provides a tangible sense of Green's identity. This long, vertical black scroll bears a picture of a gray, stone-like slab. Atop it is a patch of temperate brown and green, encasing a smaller area of bright yellow-orange, like an active brain-scan image. If this is a portrait of Green the critic, here's a man of intense concentration and solid opinions. Couldn't ask for a better tribute. Through October 21 at Arts Collinwood Gallery, 15605 Waterloo Rd., 216-692-9500, -- Lewis

Mike vs. Mike -- No one really wins this friendly but nonsensical duel between Cleveland's Michael Lassins and Milwaukee's Michael Kloss. Not Lassins -- although he outranks his opponent on every technical measure -- and certainly not the viewers encountering a random, uninspired display. Lassins, a recent grad of the Cleveland Institute of Art, might fare better alone, in a different context. Most of the strong punches thrown here are his. The best (and least confusing) is a large, untitled charcoal drawing of an overweight, bug-eyed child similar to South Park's Eric Cartman. Lassins lavishes painterly attention on the figure, deftly shading his many contours and framing him in an elaborate border pattern. But this isn't Cartman, not with a power cord sprouting from his head and mechanical guts bursting from his limbs, like a robot whose hands have been chopped off. This is any child of the 21st century, living and breathing technology so deeply that they're almost literally wired. Childhood is a theme for Lassins. He picks it up again in a mildly affecting collage of 1970s memorabilia arranged like a Rube Goldberg contraption. But where Lassins comments on childishness, Kloss revels in it. Aside from a few underwhelming Rorschach-like studies in perception, most of Kloss' black-ink drawings could be the doodling of a seven-year-old. With Kloss in one corner of the ring, the fight is mismatched and meaningless. Through November 18 at the Front Room Gallery, 3615 Superior Ave. #4203-A, 216-534-6059, -- 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

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