Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

Maximilien Luces Madame Luce, part of Lost - Treasures Unveiled at Contessa Gallery.
Maximilien Luces Madame Luce, part of Lost Treasures Unveiled at Contessa Gallery.

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 much 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, -- Zachary 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


Brick by Brick -- To the pudgy, pointy-nosed subjects of the magnificent paintings by Cuban-born Clevelander Augusto Bordelois, appearance means everything. Like many Americans, they're either wracked with insecurity or oblivious to their faults. Bordelois imagines them in outrageously ornate clothing that either masks or flaunts their deficiencies, thereby transforming them into universal and sometimes humorous symbols of human vanity. Bordelois is an exceptionally good painter -- the show's title alludes to his meticulous method -- and his palette is as rich and vibrant as Raphael's, dominated by velvety maroons, plush reds, and luminescent flesh tones. In "Fragile," a teen tries to look grown up in his dark sunglasses and mobster suit, when he's really just a pasty kid with a weight problem. By contrast, the woman in "The Fox" poses luxuriously, like Eve in the Garden of Eden -- naked except for a strategically placed leaf. Only she's far heavier than Adam's wife, sporting a fox-fur collar in sad contradiction to her utterly unfoxy looks. Best is "Living Without a Rooster," where women in evening gowns preen around an empty throne. They resemble the chickens at their feet: Empty in mind and soul, they have nothing to do but wait around and hope someone notices them. Until September 29 at 1point618 Gallery, 6421 Detroit Avenue, 216-281-1618, -- Lewis

Darice Polo -- These images by Clevelander Darice Polo look so much like old black-and-white family photos that it's hard to believe they're actually recent works. Only upon close inspection -- nose against the glass -- is their true magnificence revealed. They're actually drawings -- film stills transformed with painstaking care into pencil-and-paper (or oil paint) masterpieces, complete with historic blemishes; the effort involved explains why there are so few of them. And while nothing says the subjects are members of Polo's family, the drawings evince so much love and pride that it's impossible to assume otherwise. Particularly moving are the variations in clarity and what they imply. A large pencil drawing titled "Fela's Visit, 1952" shows a group of women cooing over a baby. All the details are there, textures particularly: a flannel blanket, dress fabrics, a painted wood cabinet, the baby's peach-fuzz hair. Yet the faces are blurry; the most valuable element is omitted. By contrast, "Theresa, 1948," another graphite drawing, is in amazingly sharp, pointillistic focus, suggesting that Polo (or whoever holds the memory) took great care in preserving this mental picture. It shows a young, well-dressed black woman, who smilingly waits on a train platform amid businessmen. Perhaps she was traveling to a job interview or happy social event. In any case, she was probably far ahead of her time in the segregated, chauvinistic 1940s and '50s, and the image resounds with her pride. Through October 8 at Raw & Co Gallery, 1009 Kenilworth Ave., 216-235-0635, -- 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