Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

Art Around Town

Tell Me Something I Don't Know -- Anthropomorphism, the practice of ascribing human traits to inanimate objects, is the name of the game in this quirky but profoundly astute series of photos by Chicago-based conceptual artist Joel Ross. The objects in this case are bland cookie-cutter homes in a suburb of St. Louis. Ross gives the structures unique voices by planting in their yards (with the owners' consent) rows of handwritten signs spelling thoughts that people might have. Their range is truly human, from disappointment, fear, and embarrassment to pure goofiness. One drab, semi-neglected abode with patches of dead grass cries out -- appropriately, like the dumb kid in class -- "I think there's something wrong with my arm." Another home -- finer and more neatly manicured, featuring even rows of blue shutters -- belies its calm appearance with "Sometimes it feels like my brain is on fire." A third states, randomly and empty-headedly, "My bowling thumb is still sore." The beauty of these images is manifold. In one sense, they underscore and subtly fight back against the generic, nondescript subdevelopments ubiquitous throughout the United States. They're also deliciously subversive and prank-like, proclaiming private thoughts in a setting where public decorum is the rule. But even this is done in a friendly, innocent manner reminiscent of birth or graduation announcements. Finally, they're empathetic, evoking genuine concern for the people inside or simply plucking the heart strings like a sad clown. It's impossible, for instance, not to love a well-worn house declaring, "My intentions were good." Through June 24 at Raw & Co Gallery, 1009 Kenilworth Ave., 216-235-0635, -- Zachary Lewis

Daniel Rothenfeld -- Daniel Rothenfeld's art is among the zillion things that changed after September 11. As this diverse, occasionally stirring solo exhibition makes clear, the terrorist attacks shook the Bratenahl artist, leading him to explore new subjects and shift from glass sculpture to acrylic painting. Still, the older work is more consistently original and compelling. "Life," from 1989, is the finest example -- a sturdy, two-foot-tall human figure made from horizontal slices of glass. A deeply thoughtful creation, the piece illustrates the union of frailty and strength in every human being. What's more, it seems half-alive, with an icy-blue exterior giving way inside to a warm deep blue, like a pulsating core. Paintings after 2001 capture visions of peace and understanding that came to Rothenfeld unbidden. Many resemble hippie hallucinations or knockoffs of optical illusionist Julian Stanczak. A few, however, manage to evoke something legitimately unique. "Illumination," for instance, verges on myth. Here stands a fierce-eyed man, shirtless, at night, on some vast gray expanse surrounded by distant mountains -- the great salt flats, perhaps, or some remote highland lake. A bright moon hovers above, while falling stars become water droplets as they hit his face. What's transpiring isn't exactly clear, but it seems the man has submitted himself completely to nature; he's alone in wilderness, and now it's just him and the world. Through June 9 at Arts Collinwood, 15605 Waterloo Rd., 216-692-9500, -- Lewis

Robert Roth -- Impressionism blossomed in the late 19th century, but it's still useful here, in the early 21st, as American Greetings staffer Robert Roth demonstrates in this thoughtful display of paintings inspired by New York's Long Island. Acrylic dries rapidly, but Roth doesn't seem hurried, even as he captures all the sensory details of the island's active skies and marshy, windswept landscapes with a brisk, almost blunt hand. "East Hampton" is the show's most balanced, elegant entry. Here, seemingly boundless, soggy grasslands -- their subtle patchwork of greens interrupted only by occasional fingers of whitish-blue streams -- unfurl into the horizon. You can almost hear the squish beneath your feet and feel your boots getting muddy. All this takes place beneath a vast but placid sky, compounding the magnificent remoteness of the scene. This is the basic format of most images, and green, blue, and gray predominate, but in "Bay Overlook," Roth makes a tasteful exception, applying shocking touches of brilliant orange and misty pink to convey flecks of light on the water and the glow of the setting sun. The air, too, is restless. Roth brushes on thicker layers and even globs of paint to portray the onset of evening. For sheer deftness, take note of "Cove," in which Roth incorporates some minor imperfections on his wooden surface into a generally rainy composition, transforming the board's tiny pocks into precipitation, like drops of water on a camera's lens. Through June 16 at Kelly-Randall Gallery, 2678 W. 14th St., 216-771-7724. -- Lewis

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, -- Lewis

Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.
Scroll to read more Arts Stories & Interviews articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.