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Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions. 

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Aminals -- As art exhibits go, this one's pretty wild -- or at least undomesticated. Pretension and polish are nowhere to be found in this offbeat, animal-themed collection of works by local artists, organized by Clevelander Shawn Mishak. Depth too is scarce, but at least there's an intellectual path through the zoo: that we humans aren't much different from our beastly neighbors. Josh Banaszak draws the connection most clearly in "Pregnant." Painting crudely on untreated plywood, he depicts a nude, pregnant woman in profile, neck to stomach. Her breasts and belly are swollen to bursting, but the pink circle representing her womb is what grabs your attention. Scrawled over it is the word "mammalian," making the point that gestation and live birth are traits common to countless species. Mandy Szostek illustrates our remove from nature and pays sarcastic homage to our media obsession in "Modern Urban Totemic Animism," a totem pole-like structure formed from televisions. But the real zingers are the charms on the wall: Instead of statuettes, there are a cigarette box, a prescription-pill container, and a Red Bull can -- gods, indeed. Jeff Pasek takes the most poetic tack, seeking animal equivalents for human tendencies. One discovery is "Sleep Cycle," the show's most beautiful painting, in which monarch butterflies, stuck in a treeless, orange-tinted landscape, find rest in dangling from mysterious white lines. They can't sleep without a little external assistance, and neither can most of us. Until August 13 at Doubting Thomas Gallery, 856 Jefferson Avenue, Cleveland, 330-687-3355. -- Zachary Lewis

ONGOING

Mirror Matter -- Stemming from the mind of Cleveland toy designer Olga Ziemska, this brilliant sculpture exhibition unifies art, literature, and nature. It reflects a profoundly artistic world where nature's patterns are the stuff of art and disciplines overlap. It's impossible to pinpoint where poetry ends and sculpture begins in "Octavio," the show's gem. Its wall of dangling letters spell out the poem "Sight and Touch" (by Mexican American literary giant Octavio Paz) in large, gray letters -- formed from crusty sodium crystals -- which hang in ceiling-high columns from a transparent line. Spinning slowly in place and catching the faintest air currents, they tend to mimic the text itself, physically resembling "light," "a living body," and "curtain." More beautifully, they compel viewers to read slowly and savor both the sight and sound of each word. But "Chiromancy Point" and "Akasha: A Collection of Accident and Circumstance" form the show's breathtaking and truly site-specific centerpiece. A large triangle made from countless mirror shards -- many of which contain an image of some organic or man-made pattern -- adorn the gallery's glass wall. The opposite wall features a paisley-print-shaped stream of glass pebbles, each of which also includes an image. Viewed from the proper perspective, the two pieces merge to form a massive three-dimensional landscape of wind blowing across a mountain. And to think it's all based on the tiniest of artistic atoms. Through August 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, 8501 Carnegie Avenue, 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Lewis

The Powers of 2 -- Not all artists are solitary, garret-dwelling creatures. Sometimes they actually work in groups and benefit from the arrangement. Take this show's formula: four local artists, two studios. The result is one presentation that's collectively stronger and more diverse than any individual in it. Each studio, however, has its shining star. For sheer beauty, Gretchen Goss' naturalistic enamel tiles and platters outshine Mark Hartung's amusing and well-crafted antique, toy-like sculptural assemblages. Goss transfers natural patterns observed in plant forms to metal surfaces, producing objects of luminous textural depth and soothing tranquillity. "Random Order," a six-piece set of wall tiles, is anything but arbitrary. Three small tiles resembling sun-speckled patches of water alternate with larger images of brightly lit tree branches and flowers. If there's a message beneath the elegance, it's that nature is both structured and unruly. In studio no. 2, the humor and delicacy of Kathleen Browne's pulp-themed metal jewelry will win many admirers, but her partner Stephen Litchfield's altered furniture offers the richer experience. Although displayed regularly throughout the Cleveland area, Litchfield's miniature ultra-skinny chairs never get old. Reduced to just a few inches wide, the chairs flagrantly defy their intended purpose. But with their fine woodwork and plush fabrics, they retain a degree of craftsmanship and luxury reserved for kingly rears. Like Goss' visions of nature, Litchfield's chairs both attract and repel sitters simultaneously. Until July 28 at Heights Arts, 2173 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-371-3457, www.heightsarts.org. -- Lewis

Retreat -- Sarah Kabot. Sarah Kabot. Sarah Kabot. If the Cleveland-based artist behind this cunning little installation is correct -- if repetition does, in fact, invite attention and promote memory -- you should remember her name for weeks. That's a good thing. Kabot drills home her theory by piecing together an elaborate framework from white-foam beams. The three-dimensional lattice hangs delicately from the ceiling, suspended by a few strands of practically invisible fishing line and appearing to hover in the air. Viewed from inside the tiny gallery, the structure, ethereal as it is, is out of context and makes little sense. The real magic transpires outside. Viewed through the shop-front window, the structure syncs up with the white panes of the gallery's many windows, creating a regression of the geometric pattern running deep into the interior. Kabot's intention with this mesmerizing sleight of hand is subtle but powerful: By calling attention to the gallery's design so delicately and strikingly, she invites viewers to examine not only this place, but all places -- to pay more attention to the nuances of the architectural and natural worlds. This isn't groundbreaking stuff: What Kabot explores is a major tenet of minimalism. But her way of making the argument couldn't be more imaginative. Furthermore, the lesson to stop and smell the roses, or at least savor their visual qualities, is always worth repeating. Until August 10 at Raw and Co Gallery, 1009 Kenilworth Avenue, Cleveland, 216-235-0635, www.rawandcogallery.com. -- Lewis

Storage Space -- Memory is a well-scoured subject, the inspiration for countless books, films, and musical compositions. But never has it been examined from so many angles simultaneously. The eight artists in this thoughtful group exhibition address the way we create, frame, alter, repress, and recall memories -- and practically every viewpoint manages to affect. Louisiana-based Mark Grote's "Heartland OBJ" is perhaps the most poignant. A rack jammed with countless pairs of dingy work-gloves, it feels like a relic from some coal mine's locker room: Behind each pair is a story, a life lived. Fredrik Marsh, of Westerville, points ingeniously to the lingering power of physical spaces in a series of vivid photos of abandoned apartments. One in Dresden, Germany, feels particularly alive: It's the corner of a room with a deep, dark hole in the wall near an exhaust pipe, electrical socket, some wire, and cracked plaster. This corner probably housed clothes dryers and nothing more, but Marsh endows it with a potent sense of mystery. But the most breathtaking and relevant works here are the blurred and darkly tinted war photographs by Dayton's Benjamin Montague. Through the haze, we see soldiers patrolling, bombs exploding, a helicopter crashing. Surely, if one could put the repressed memories of Iraq war veterans on film, they'd look something like Montague's images. Until August 3 at SPACES Gallery, 2220 Superior Viaduct, Cleveland, 216-621-2314, www.spacesgallery.org. -- Lewis

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  • A Photography Workshop @ Cleveland Print Room

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