On View

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

March of the Penguins Cedar Lee Theatre

The NEO Show -- Despite its huge variety of media, this juried exhibition of 80 Northeast Ohio artists doesn't offer enough viable alternatives to established tradition. In lieu of deeply considered art are bright colors, appealing surfaces, technical creativity, mechanical gizmos, and ingratiating effects that mostly entertain rather than nourish. Take, for example, Jason Lee's "Greener," a cute installation consisting of backlit photos of grass and a miniature white picket fence; Stephen Litchfield's three-key piano; or Benjamin Kinsley's increasingly annoying video of a young man twisting and shrieking. These were among the best of 1,300 applicants? Thankfully, there are a few saving graces. One never tires of Hildur Jonsson's complex but elegant fiber weavings, and at least one painter -- Brian Sharp -- hasn't abandoned pure abstraction. Photorealist James Seward offers the fine painting "My Father in the Living Room of our 10th House," a massive close-up of an old man's craggy face, and photography itself is well represented by Herbert Ascherman Jr.'s beautifully obscured black-and-white nightscape and by Michael Loderstedt's sadly effective view of Waccamaw Neck, South Carolina, a historical site currently marred by discarded garbage. Through September 4 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., 421-7350, www.clevelandart.org. -- Zachary Lewis


Alicia Basinger: Shiver and Craze -- This recent Cleveland Institute of Art graduate is the latest headliner in MOCA's Emerging Artist Series, and she deserves the spotlight. A ceramist, Basinger makes clay seem like a brand-new medium by mixing it with previously unrelated elements. In "Timber," her most physically impressive work, tall cylinders of wire mesh form the skeletons of tree-like structures with clay skins; each stalk has its own personality, a unique combination of height, width, colors, and blemishes. Standing together in a pod, some of them approaching the ceiling, they take on a sacred, ritualistic aura akin to that of Stonehenge. Basinger also finds success in "Conversion," her deliberate failure to bake a thin layer of clay onto a large slab of steel; the clay peeled away, giving the surface an aged, worn look that's far livelier than the original. Using thicker, two-tone clay for "Passages," she ends up with a raised, heavily cracked surface resembling a patch of desert. One could stare for ages at "Bridge," a pretzel-like knot of blue porcelain loops so complex, they defy comprehension. "Vestiges," meanwhile, consists of a curious series of smaller and usually roundish objects comprising metal, ceramic, and ossified paper. They're survivors, all right: sturdy, nubby remnants of intense heat and profound chemical changes, like meteors that have fallen to earth. Through August 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Lewis

Michaël Borremans: Hallucination and Reality -- The world envisioned by this young Belgian artist is not an appealing place, even if his skill is in portraying it. In this large exhibition, Borremans outlines, in the most delicate hand, a dark, mechanistic, submissive society in which man and nature are traded and altered like commodities. His pencil drawings, overlaid with light watercolor and other media, such as white ink and tape, recall comic books of the 1940s. At that pre-nuclear time, certainly, his frames of scientists juggling tiny blue and red balls, of powerful men tinkering with fundamental matter, might have been perfect for some pulp novel. Yet it also speaks to current times, when stem-cell research, cloning, and terrorism are hot-button issues. "Slight Modifications," a veritable catalogue of human facial deformities, might be an illustration of the ills scientists now seek to eradicate; alternatively, "Cerebral Office" and "Boxing Heads" -- in which human heads are bought, sold, and stored on racks, as if they were shoes -- argue against genetic tampering. And the giant women towering over a model city, notepads at the ready, in "Terror Watch," demonstrate the ultimate in governmental invasiveness. Incidentally, the piece also exemplifies the strongest tool in Borremans' arsenal: perspective, or exaggerating differences in size. He does this most effectively in "Trickland," a vision of oversized humans crawling over a landscape and rearranging it as if it were a toy train set. Through September 4 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., 216-421-7340, www.clevelandart.org. -- Lewis

Educators/Educated -- The talent is simply astounding at this ambitious, densely packed show of work by more than 80 academic metalsmiths from six Ohio universities. A traveling exhibit, the show is hosted in conjunction with the International Conference of the Society of North American Goldsmiths, held recently in Cleveland. Among the many high points: the incredibly delicate "Sake Server" made of silver and eggshell by Chuck Evans; two huge, dynamic, spiraling copper abstracts by John Havener; Catherine Butler's thin metallic floral tiaras; and Kathy Buszkiewicz's "Fortuitous Warmth," a bitterly satirical scarf made of paper money and 14-karat gold. Sleek, stunningly executed pieces of silver jewelry abound in the company of countless tiny, whimsical sculptures. But not everyone here reserves their skill for small-scale work. Teresa Murray's "Cancan," a gigantic bell forged of welded metal pieces, occupies an immense space, as does Kathy Bergman Cassell's politically poignant "Lost in Iraq," a group of pentagonal metal plates connected into winding circular paths on the floor and wall. For sheer amazement, though, see Susan Ewing's "Crystalline Tower." Ewing spared no pain or detail in building this tiny spiral staircase encased in a triangular screen cylinder, complete with a miniature bridge leading to the entrance. As if Educators/Educated weren't enough, an equally impressive version of the exhibit by students occupies the neighboring gallery. Through July 29 at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 11141 East Blvd., 216-421-7000, www.cia.edu. -- Lewis

Enamel: Beyond the Object -- Quality varies from piece to piece, but this Spaces show has at least one universal trait: Each work, in its way, successfully defines a new possibility for enamel, the paint that dries with a hard, shiny finish on ceramic. In a show featuring national and international artists, a local name scores the greatest hit: "Party On," by Bay Village artist Kate Ward Terry, features festively colored circles attached to a wall from ceiling to floor, but with heavier concentration at the bottom so they appear to be trickling down on air, like giant falling confetti. More intellectually compelling is Katy Bergman Cassell's "Collapsible Triumph," a four-post archway made of plywood and adorned with a black-and-white Islamic tile pattern. It suggests both permanence and transience; its trappings are flimsy and light, but there is evidence of a great, long-enduring culture. Though similar in some respects, Helen Elliott's "Portable Dwelling" lacks a conceptual foundation. Then again, so do many works in this show. Jessica Calderwood's "Drips" is a rare visual tour de force: Small enamel orbs hang from the ceiling in long nylon sacs; like Terry's work, it derives its power from gravity. Each orb seems to strive for the floor, stretching the fabric the way these artists are stretching enamel's limitations. Through August 5 at Spaces Gallery, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314, www.spacesgallery.org. -- Lewis

Nina Bovasso -- Stepping inside the new painting installation by New-York-based artist Nina Bovasso at the Museum of Contemporary Art is as exciting as going for a ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Her huge design on the rotunda gallery's curved wall looks like paisley gone mad; it surrounds the viewer with an almost dizzying spinning effect. The eye scans the perimeter and flits about the room, frantically seeking visual balances on either side of the circle between a psychedelic array of tall flames, dots, branches, buttons, and swoosh patterns, while the brain seizes almost subconsciously on matching colors across this huge carnivalesque palette. Bovasso fixed her own pictures to the wall like large 21st-century diptychs, then painted new designs that grow around, toward, and away from them like ivy. One near the window is a big, red explosion of paint that seems to spew more design fragments into the atmosphere. No two perspectives are alike in this gallery. Views and responses to those views change according to the focal point and the viewer's position in relation to it. Bovasso spent a week climbing up and down ladders to complete the installation. It's a wonder it didn't take her longer -- and that she didn't fall off. Through August 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Lewis

Once Familiar -- Claustrophobia may be your first reaction to this exhibition in the museum's sky lounge of works by four local artists. If you use the museum's spiral staircase, you will watch the ceiling get closer and closer, until you enter by poking your head through Carol Hummel's utterly unforgettable installation. Like Spider-Man on drugs, Hummel has spun a thick, multicolored web of yarn over both the gallery's open areas, complete with grandmotherly cozies over parts of the railings. Simultaneously abstract and immediately tangible, Hummel's work here questions the tame identity of yarn as well as its history as a medium. It won't seem quite so familiar after this. (A corresponding video project by Carey McDougall and sculptures by Dylan Collins were not yet in place, as of an early visit.) Just as devilishly creative and playfully subversive as Hummel's installation, though, is a series of faux-antique chairs by Stephen Litchfield, positioned like sentinels around the yarn. Narrow and wobbly, with cracker-sized seats and disproportionately high backs and long legs, Litchfield's humorous constructions are quite useless for sitting -- at least for human sitting. Otherwise, they're made to look exactly like their practical counterparts and would be considered fine furniture in the real world. Through August 14 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Lewis

Out There: Landscape in the New Millennium -- Traditional landscape painting may be fading into the sunset, but there's still a bright future for landscape art in general, as this new exhibition of contemporary international works makes clear. Corsican artist Ange Leccia's hypnotic, beautifully disorienting video installation titled "La Mer" features a camera positioned directly above a seashore, filming white-capped waves breaking and retreating on dark sand; displayed onscreen, the wave pattern looks strangely like a slow, undulating geyser. American Jennifer Steinkamp also works magic through video in "Dervish 14," a digitized time-lapse loop of a tree as it winds and unwinds through the seasons. The rest are all photographs: American Tom Bamberger depicts the wide, imposing front edges of dense natural mini-environments, whether thick clumps of "Brown Grass" or a field of high-tech windmills. Ellen Kooi posits people as intrinsic elements of the Dutch countryside in her large, haunting photographs; a row of people emerges directly out of the ocean and onto the land to form a wall in "The Dike," while in another picture, a man frozen in a seemingly impossible backflip forms a bridge over a creek. Rosemary Laing, in four images from a series called "One Dozen Unnatural Disasters in the Australian Landscape," draws intriguing comparisons between fire as a destructive force and the harsh climate of her land. Through August 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Lewis

Sculpture Garden -- The small sculpture garden at Atmosphere's new Tremont digs is filled with engaging sights. Alex Stoll's burnt-steel dragonflies and squirrels hover over shrubbery like busy real-life creatures. A large insect with brightly colored metal bars for legs oversees the garden's back half. Near the front, Lothar Jobczyk's "Garden Spirits" -- sandstone blocks with craggy, totemic faces -- poke their heads above the plants; commendably, Jobczyk managed to give each one a personality without squandering their dense, stony qualities. But the sculptures by Frank Brozman and Jerry Schmidt are the kings of this jungle. Brozman's are abstract realizations in brown steel of familiar materials and physical processes. Ornate flower planters are among his more obvious examples, but he can be subtler: At first, his "Insatiable" looks like nothing more than a large flat piece of steel connected to its stand by a metal coil. Viewed from the side, however, it becomes a face and stomach forever trapped in a cycle of feeding and regurgitating. Schmidt's "Photogenic" compares in size to the giant insect, but surpasses it conceptually: A circle of blue steel punctures a large, flesh-colored plate, like a lens coming out of a camera. Not only does it evoke photography in this way; the whole, curvaceous, semi-animate thing appears to be posing for a picture. Through the summer at Atmosphere Gallery, 2379 Professor Ave., Suite 1, 216-685-9527. -- Lewis

Slang, Slurs and Derogatory Words -- This exhibition is the first in a three-part series titled The Internal Baggage Project by Cleveland Heights painter-graphic designer Julius Lyles. While the exhibit is dedicated to gaining "a deeper understanding of the historical racial divide," this portion considers the harmful effect of labels. Walls are lined with rows of portraits depicting African Americans, digitally altered to look like evil aliens in hologram. Each is assigned a racially inflammatory term -- some of them unconscionably racist ("Tar Baby," "Coon," "Spear Chucker"), and others seemingly innocuous ("Homie," "Dime Piece," "Yoyo"). There are also despicable terms relating to Hispanic and Asian Americans, particularly to people of those cultures who marry or have children with blacks: "Bubble Bee," "Blatino," and "Pinky Poop." The show is stunningly effective in its way, and perennially timely, even if it is more about sociology than art. Like a serpent, "Slang" strikes quickly and deeply. There can be no substitute for the experience of standing in this gallery, letting the eye scan so many pictures. More than anything else, viewers will be impressed by the sheer number of vile words lodged in our lexicon. Through July 15 at the Cleveland State University Art Gallery, 2307 Chester Ave., 216-687-2103, www.csuohio.edu/art/gallery or www.internalbaggageproject.org. -- Lewis

Virtual/Tangible -- Just as computers allow modern architects to design ever more sophisticated buildings, they also permit sculptors to construct previously impossible objects. Virtual/Tangible, one of many shows organized around the recent conference of the Society of North American Goldsmiths, features work by sculptors who map out fantastic dreams onscreen before turning them into reality. Bathsheba Grossman uses CAD, a design program long used by engineers, with a "metal-printing" technique to create wildly complex, palm-sized structures of interlocking rings and curves. With names like "Gyroid" and "Metatron," they are the material equivalents of mathematical equations (imagine holding a calculus concept in your hands). Others worked similar mind-bending wonders out of metals and plastics -- or in one case, pressed gypsum -- to produce alien-looking containers and jewelry, and a range of indescribable items. The influence of technology is apparent too in a set of incredibly intricate and creepy Gothic-style silverware by Richard Neliopovich. It's less clear why Kimberlie Tatalick required digital assistance with her "Bugatti Shakers," but these salt-and-pepper shakers resembling automotive turn signals are still thoroughly amusing -- or bemusing -- as is most everything in this gem of a show. Through July 29 at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 11141 East Blvd., 216-421-7000, www.cia.edu. -- Lewis

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