Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

On View

Shrinking Cities -- Spaces is known for treating subjects other galleries won't touch. Alas, here's one even Spaces should have left alone: Focused on three European cities and Detroit, the show rests on the fact that 25 percent of cities are getting smaller. That's an alarming figure and a potentially ripe theme, yet here it's completely undeveloped -- and blame for that goes straight to the artists. Most pieces are simply off-putting, dependent on rambling audiovisuals and dense, poorly written text to make their vague points, most of which don't even address the problem (never mind solutions). In a pair of photos called "Industrial Forest," Jorg Dettmer presents urban fringes reclaimed by grass and trees, and they're actually rather inviting. Plenty of cities work hard to create such green spaces, yet Dettmer seems to imply they're a bad thing. Or maybe not. Who knows -- the wall text is so full of buzzwords and art-speak, it approaches meaninglessness. One of the few interesting pieces is "Detroit Tree of Heaven" by Mitch Cope, Ingo Vetter, and Annette Weiser. A bench and stack of wood from a tree unique to urban wastelands, the installation celebrates nature's ultimate power. It's fair to wonder what a show about city planning is doing at an art venue, rather than an academic center for urban studies. But overlooking even that, the show's most baffling fault, at least here, is its neglect of Cleveland-specific issues. Hello! We're shrinking too! Through June 8 at Spaces, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314, -- Zachary Lewis


Arte -- More than paintings and prints, technique is what's truly on display in this informative show by nationally renowned Clevelander Phyllis Seltzer. And what a technique it is. Using heat transfer, Seltzer recasts oil paintings as prints on paper -- somewhat like posters, but without sacrificing brightness or archival durability. If anything, the prints are actually more vivid and a lot crisper. The copies and their originals are included here; the opportunity to compare them is the show's greatest strength. The work itself is equally interesting: In one colorful, fresco-like cityscape after another, Seltzer highlights similarities between the jammed, high-rising metropolises of New York and Cleveland, and old Europe's dense network of red rooftops and crowded alleys. She focuses particularly on Venice, her home away from home. In "Graphic Urbanscape," Seltzer fondly places Cleveland, with its many public landmarks, on a level with storied Rialto, an ancient part of Venice, whose festive, harlequin-like spirit she honors in "L'Anima Rialto." But the image most likely to mentally linger stands apart: "Central Park," a magnificent landscape scanning the park top to bottom from the wide-open perspective of a window washer outside a skyscraper, 80 floors up. From this vantage point, the buildings possess a rare immediacy, and the treetops coalesce into a strangely calm sea of green. Morning sunlight gently bathes the entire scene. For a moment, New York seems peaceful. Through May 27 at Convivium 33 Gallery, 1433 E. 33rd St., 216-881-7838, -- Lewis

Come Closer -- Rejoice, ye who mourned the late E. Gordon Gallery. Elizabeth Davis has launched a bright, spacious new venture downtown in the Tower Press Building, and its debut is auspicious. Inaugurating freshly whitewashed walls is a diverse collection of small, mostly abstract pieces by 20 local artists, many of whom Davis has shown previously; for followers of Cleveland art, it's a reunion. Meghann Snow makes a glorious return with "Unfit for Human Consumption," a wild mishmash of familiar nonbiodegradable materials: caulk, plastic, foam, wire. One foot square and deliriously colorful, it's like a birthday cake or piece of candy . . . only completely unnatural and toxic. Strangely, though, these are the omnipresent glues holding together modern life. Yet another man-made substance inspired Liz Maugans to create "My Little Red Bull," a bittersweet monument to today's rapidly maturing, overstimulated children. Text etched above a drawing of a child with a teddy bear lays out the kid's "Five Year Plan": a jam-packed list of babyish aspirations, full of corporate buzzwords like "upgrade," "diversify," and "invest." Like the sweet caffeinated drink of the title, the thought of such a twisted childhood verges on sickening. To cap it off, two antennas on the picture's frame evoke the ultimate time-waster: television. But on the anxiety scale -- and for sheer beauty -- nothing beats "Nervous" by Jen Omaitz. The texture of this deep, glossy red oil painting, streaked with jittery yellow ribbons, is akin to egg-drop soup. You could peer into it -- and be soothed -- for ages. Through June 1 at the Wooltex Gallery, 1900 Superior Ave., -- Lewis

Monet in Normandy -- Claude Monet's oeuvre has been presented a thousand times in a thousand ways, but never quite like this. Organized chronologically in accordance with Monet's many trips to France's rugged Normandy coast, and featuring a healthy mix of major and minor works, this 50-piece exhibition amounts to a quick but insightful examination of the painter's stylistic development. Famous works from the 1860s like "The Garden at Sainte-Adresse" and "Pointe de la Heve at Low Tide" illuminate the show's early chapter, in which Monet becomes infatuated with the sea and refines his ability to produce landscapes both fresh and dramatic. But it's not long until Monet's nascent Impressionism begins to emerge. By the 1880s, after marriage and many returns to the shore, his palette is growing more subtle and complex, and he's more intensely obsessed with water. One painting here, full of blue-green curlicues depicting crashing waves, verges on pure abstraction. But the most rewarding pieces are those that show Monet's devotion to capturing the transformative effects of light, shadow, and snow. The few precious selections from the Rouen cathedral and haystack series are enough to steal this already dazzling show. Through May 28 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., 216-421-7350, -- Lewis

Reborn -- Brilliantly titled, this small display of photographic work by Clevelander Jane Critchlow serves to both christen a new gallery in the rectory of the Convivium 33 complex and convey the artist's disgust for (among other things) "reborn" dolls. And what is just as creepy as vinyl baby dolls designed to look eerily real? Dead fish, of course. Critchlow establishes the connection by attaching plump "reborn" limbs and frilly doll clothing to real market-fresh fish, photographing the arrangements against solid black backgrounds, like so many pieces of bizarre courtroom evidence. Clearly, we're meant to feel attraction and repulsion, but the latter reaction wins out. Deeper commentary -- something about our tendency to mask our ugly selves in pleasant but fake exteriors -- may be lurking here somewhere too, but it's not exactly well formed. Critchlow's quirky eye and affinity for water are better employed in a set of altered photographs underscoring Cleveland's environmental instability. In "Yes, No, Goodbye," she digitally pastes a Ouija board onto a photo of the Lake Erie shoreline, and the game's triangular planchette looms menacingly in the water like a shark. This visualization of the natural world's uncertain future is poetically poignant and, unlike the doll images, carries genuine significance. But it's all fun and gross-out games in "Why Pink? Why Cherry?", a close-up of two spongy pink disks. Never have urinal cakes looked so tasty, and never will restrooms be viewed in the same way. Through May 11 at the Confessional, 1435 E. 33rd St., 216-299-3851, -- Lewis

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