Paint Away the Pain -- The two artists featured here don't use their real names, but their work, gritty and expertly stylized, reveals plenty about their identities. It's immediately clear, for instance, that Daze is a male club-hopper: His silk-screen drawings on paper feature bug-eyed twentysomethings in ultra-hip clothing, shaking booties and smoking the night away. Sexual tension runs high: A well-endowed woman caresses herself in "Touch and Feel," and a couple engages in some bathroom-stall lovin' in "Stolen Kiss." Daze's best paintings morph disparate settings -- a Manhattan subway stop and an alluring beach in "Here and There" -- in a way that depicts how we are often stuck in limbo, somewhere in between. By contrast, the large pastel drawings on white paper by Mode 2 -- not surprisingly, a more solitary female poet -- exude an ethereal, minimalist feel, like oversized sketches for an elegant anime cartoon. Pretty, lightly outlined teenage girls while away the time playing with pets or crouching beneath blossoming trees, in beautiful demonstrations of how much plants and animals have in common with human beings. Among her best works, "I Don't Think We Could Be Anything More Than Just Good Friends," in which a girl empties a treasure chest over a cliff, captures with sweeping drama an all-too-real and heavy emotion. Through May 18 at 1300 Gallery, 1300 W. 78th St., 216-939-1300, www.13hundred.com. -- Zachary Lewis
Thomas Albert Sills -- Though he was an abstract expressionist, Sills didn't exactly ride the bandwagon of the movement. As this thorough retrospective demonstrates, the African American artist absorbed, but did not imitate the ideas of Pollock and De Kooning, his more famous, more disturbed colleagues. Artistically, Sills (1914-2000) was closer to the serene realm of Rothko or Newman, painting by connecting areas of solid color and favoring lighter hues like lime green, baby blue, pink, and yellow -- all of which are represented in the forcefully arranged 1964 pseudo-landscape "The Tree and the River." His paintings here are generally bright, striking presences that shed complexity and invite simple, instinctive appreciation of color and their attendant emotions. But Sills departed even from Rothko in medium and line. "Orchid," a lesser work from 1971, involves markers and a wood panel, while the boundaries between red and two shades of green in an untitled picture are far sharper and straighter than those in Rothko's color fields. Not that Sills was all trees and flowers. The aptly titled "Descent," from 1957, is a terrifying vision of hell, in which ghouls and shadowy faces swirl amid toxic green air. The sense of panic is even stronger in "Strange Places," a vaguely cubist nightmare of geometrical, maroon-colored dead ends. Clearly, Sills had a darker side too. Through May 31 at Corcoran Fine Arts, 13210 Shaker Sq., 216-767-0770, www.corcoranfinearts.com. -- Lewis
Cleveland Institute of Art Graduates 2005 -- Despite its focus on drawing and painting, this enjoyable new show of works by graduating CIA seniors offers plenty of variety. There's room, in other words, for Jonathan Clemente's strangely fascinating monochrome bundles of random objects wrapped in yarn, like a spider's victims, alongside all the oil and watercolor. Meanwhile, Lindsay Alberding's dazzling constructions based on repeated geometric patterns -- her most impressive piece here, an untitled work, resembles a giant school of silver fish in dark water -- stand out markedly from Taylor Dell's simplistic landscapes cobbled together from paper, oil, and tape, and given cryptic narrative titles like "I Waited 45 Minutes, but You Never Showed." Also ambiguous, but well done, is a painting titled "Tide," by Cecilia Phillips: A turbulent sea, painted in wide, jagged swaths of blue and white, pounds against a massive dark blob (a dead whale?) at the center. Andrea Libertini's large charcoal drawing titled "Eurydice" touches on the historical subjugation of women: It shows, obscured beneath layers of illegible type, a woman in Victorian dress, drawing a similarity between the status of a married woman in the 19th century and the mythological character's captive state. Similarly, the subjects of Heather McPherson's "Two Ladies" pose demurely for a portrait in which their faces apparently don't matter. Through May 22 at E. Gordon Gallery, 2026 Murray Hill Rd., 216-795-0971, www.egordongallery.com. -- Lewis
Dissent: Political Voices -- Spaces' hard-hitting new exhibit of up-to-the-minute political art takes aim at numerous cultural preoccupations. A set of silk-screen-and-oil-stick pictures by Kayrock, Jef Scharf, and Michael Smith presents detailed, colorful, and humorous summaries of the national mood in such pieces as "Guarded Severe." Jason Byers' "Study for a Full Scale Assault," four satirical photos of a tiny tank made of birdseed, taking aim at downtown, seems to suggest that a terrorist attack in Cleveland is not a concern. Fans of the famous Disney rodent may be disturbed by Billie Grace Lynn's "Dead Mouse," a gigantic blowup lying on its side, drooling blood. Rutherford Chang's "Shredded Newspaper" illustrates the effect of a depressing front page. To make the point that the news can seem too strange to be true, Chang sliced a cover into thin strips and recombined them out of order, making the page look vaguely familiar, yet utterly foreign. Not everything in Dissent is so intelligent or broadly relevant. A third of the show might be described as blunt political pap, including Brett Colley's wallpaper screenprint, "Where Wings Take Dream," an American flag peppered with bombs, oil drums, skulls, and dying soldiers. Nothing subtle about that. But this exhibit asks whether political art can be effective. Judging by Dissent, the answer is yes. Through June 10 at SPACES, 2220 Superior Viaduct, 216-621-2314, www.spacesgallery.org. -- Lewis
Drawn With Light: Pioneering French Photography -- Digital cameras are ubiquitous as cell phones, but in the 19th century, capturing an image on film was an advanced and highly technological art. This exhibit of 19th-century French photography lauds the accomplishments of those who were on its cutting edge. Eugène Atget's photos exude the joy he must have felt, freezing the opulence of a wealthy Parisian's garden on paper. He did so with such crisp detail and bold outline, one can imagine the textures of the trees and stones. Others, such as Édouard Baldus and Louis-Remy Robert, had figured out how to convey the architectural majesty of cathedrals: Baldus offers a panoramic view of the Parisian Notre-Dame in all its buttressed glory, including details as fine as a nearby pile of bricks and the church's reflection in the Seine; Robert, meanwhile, presents the cathedral fountain in Saint-Brieuc as the yellowed relic of an ancient era. Gustave LeGray's "Portrait of Edmond Cottinet" is artfully blurry on the edges, but holds its subject in a softened but clear light. A picture by Frank Chauvassaignes contains one of the most unusual effects in the show, a somewhat impressionistic rendering of a stream receding beyond sight into the background. It must have been a photographic triumph. Through June 8 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., 216-421-7350, www.clevelandart.org. -- Lewis
Masterworks From the Phillips Collection -- Touring this group of highlights from the renowned Phillips Collection is like taking an art-history survey course on Impressionism and abstraction, and the list of artists reads like the textbook's index: Monet, Manet, Courbet, Morisot, Cézanne, Delacroix, Corot, Ingres, van Gogh, Goya, Bonnard, Braque, Matisse, Renoir, Degas, Picasso, Kandinsky, and Klee. Duncan Phillips, founder of the collection and wealthy heir of a steel magnate, displayed amazingly prescient taste, buying works by artists whose true worth was not always recognized at the time. Organized by period and subject matter, the show consists of 59 paintings that originally hung in the Phillips home, now a major national museum in Washington, D.C., in addition to 18 comparable works owned by Cleveland. Renoir's magnificent "Luncheon of the Boating Party" may be the best-known piece, along with a handful of Degas' ballet paintings and Matisse's "Etruscan Vase," but the exhibition is not short on less familiar works and less familiar names. Cubism gets a weighty nod via still lifes by Braque and Picasso, but the show ends on a whole note of pure abstraction with Feininger's elegantly geometric "Village" and four exotic musings by Klee. This is not a class to cut. Through May 29 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Boulevard, 216-421-7350, www.clevelandart.org. -- Lewis
Michael Flohr and M. Todd Muskopf -- Stylistically, these new paintings are about as unoriginal as can be. Each artist employs an approach toward impressionism handed down from an era long past -- their subject matter included. Muskopf applies thick helpings of solid-color paint to form a dappled and rather garish image that dries into a pointy, three-dimensional surface, whose primary selling point is that it creates its own minute shadows. His landscapes feature all the typically beautiful vistas, including mountains, lakes, and forests. The most interesting of these is "Maple Blaze," showing a large, rotund tree at its colorful autumn peak. Unlike Muskopf, Flohr goes for a thinner, slicker-looking surface, and his impressionism favors wide, rectangular strokes. He is interested in city scenes -- specifically, in the effect of light bouncing off wet pavement, as in "City Reflections," and in light as seen through the scrim of rain. Think Thomas Kinkade, only considerably more realistic and without the religious overtones. "Royale Street" shows a rainy view of central New Orleans at dusk that wouldn't be too bad, had Flohr not extended the image onto the frame. A painting that might have been of nominal interest got dragged back into the realm of the hokey. Through May at Dick Kleinman Fine Art, 12210 Mayfield Rd., 216-421-8484, www.dickkleinmanfineart.com. -- 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 -- and unfortunately -- temporary 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 Cleveland, 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 Cleveland, 8501 Carnegie Ave., 216-421-8671, www.mocacleveland.org. -- Lewis
The Splendor of Ruins -- Two-thirds of the total canvas space in this exhibition of 17th- and 18th-century French landscape paintings depicts dense, untamed forests and wide-open, sunlit skies, sweeping vistas that extend for miles. The rest consists of toppled pillars, crumbling porticos, and the occasional biblical figure or earthbound divinity. This is how painters at the time liked their Greek and Roman ruins: overwhelming. They imagined classical structures as positively massive relative to human beings and painted from perspectives exaggerating that effect. Painters turned to ruins to endow their landscapes with airs of timelessness and exoticism, though they also offer reminders that nothing is permanent. In Hubert Robert's "Young Girls Dancing Around an Obelisk," girls in white dresses playfully encircle a giant Egyptian sculpture fragment as if it were a maypole; they think nothing of the remnants of ancient cultures they see every day. Ruins tended to be in secluded areas -- ideal settings in which to place young men slyly caressing the breasts of maidens, fierce-eyed warriors reflecting on lost battles, and lonely folk leading home their cattle. Some, like François Boucher, went too far: His "Landscape With a Water Mill" is so idyllic, it could be the backdrop to a fairy tale. More often than not, though, these artists strike near-perfect balances between reality and fantasy. Through June 19 at Oberlin College's Allen Memorial Art Museum, 87 N. Main St., Oberlin, 440-775-8665, www.oberlin.edu/allenart. -- Lewis
Syzygy -- The contemporary equivalent of the art museum's fine Phillips Collection of masterpieces, this is a Who's Who of art's cutting edge, from John Currin to Raymond Pettibon to Yoshitomo Nara. Brute honesty is the driving force in "Tom's Girlfriend," Dana Schutz's memorable portrait of an awkward teenager smiling through misery as she suffers the worst aspects of puberty. Stella Vine's "Mary M" is another unforgettable portrait in the expressionist vein, this of a frail, rosy-cheeked woman with carefully curled hair and big eyes, like a sickly Scarlett O'Hara. Kehinde Wiley, in a huge untitled painting, ingeniously frames an African American male as an ornate classical allegory; wielding a jewel-encrusted sword and slicing through his obstacles, the man might be courage personified, fully in control of his fate. Three large black-and-white drawings on exposed photo paper by Bruce Checefsky are stunning in their multilayered virtuosity, calling to mind images of vast galaxies. Similarly, the dilapidated house in Dirk Skreber's work seems to have landed on a completely different planet, thanks to the strange but wonderful effect of oil on a digital print. Lovers of contemporary art: Do not miss Syzygy. Through May 13 at Shaheen Modern and Contemporary Art, 740 W. Superior Ave., Suite 101, 216-830-8888. -- Lewis
Tri-C West Annual Juried Student Art Exhibition 2005 -- The best works in student shows are those that fulfill the technical assignment while also accomplishing something personally expressive. Happily, there are many such in this giant multimedia roundup. "Teacher and Student," featuring an older painter mentoring a child with brush in hand, not only demonstrates Diane Zizka's facility with watercolors; it also captures a touching scene, perhaps from Zizka's childhood. Also looking backward in time, "Memories Lost" -- which depicts fragmented, hazed-over trees, doors, and statues -- showcases Marianne Gnandt's ability to layer photographs without suffocating her haunting, dreamlike concept. Of course, there's something to be said for sheer technique, as photographer Nancy Ballock proves with "Twilight at Huntington Beach," an impressive composition in which the beach, a stone pier, and the horizon form a triangular pattern against people standing at even intervals. Orsolya Bordczski's paintings on silk and gauze stand out amid a sea of competent but dull still lifes of food and clothing; "The Fall," a strikingly individual Art Deco-style vision of autumn personified and defined with thick lines of silver, bears a striking resemblance to a large, luxurious pane of Tiffany glass. Among the three-dimensional pieces, Brandon Hahn's "Wired," a metal-frame skull with a thick strand of copper wire attached to the eyes as if to plugs, is by far the most elegant -- and also the creepiest. Through June 18 at the Tri-C West Campus Gallery, 11000 Pleasant Valley Rd., Parma, 216-987-5322, www.tri-c.edu/art/docs/exhibitions/htm. -- Lewis
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