Our critics recommend these shows.

Art Capsule Reviews 

Our critics recommend these shows.

The African Art Experience It isn't often that Kansas City audiences have a chance to see a collection of non-Western art as diverse as the one on display at the Belger Arts Center. The majority of the pieces in The African Art Experience are three-dimensional objects made of wood, clay, metal or natural materials such as woven and dyed textiles. Each piece, including masks, furniture and pottery, was created to fulfill a specific purpose; most were commissioned by priests or kings for use in religious ceremonies. For example, "Kuba Costume," from the Congo, consists of a red-and-brown-feather headdress, a mask with two cowrie shells for eyes, a red shirt, and red pants with an elaborate cowrie-shell belt and pouches. The gallery's lighting enhances the art's religious origins -- the room is dim, but lights shine brightly and reverently on each piece. Although it's hard to imagine actual faces behind the masks hanging in front of the gallery's white walls, that doesn't mean they can't be appreciated for their beauty as objects. Through July 2 at the Belger Arts Center, 2100 Walnut St., 816-474-3250. (T.B.)

Amy Cutler The fanciful costumes and absurd situations depicted in Amy Cutler's gouache paintings on white paper often draw comparisons to fairy-tale illustrations, but Cutler finds inspiration in a wide variety of sources: Laura Ingalls Wilder, James Audubon, childhood memories of her father's pet store. For example, in "Dinner Party," young women in elaborate ball gowns use their long braids of hair to strap wooden chairs atop their heads; they then conduct a duel standing on the dinner table, fighting with the chair legs the way elk fight with their antlers. Cutler's highly detailed paintings show only characters and props; that there are no backgrounds to help explain the bizarre situations expands the opportunities for a viewer's interpretation. Through July 11 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick Blvd., 816-753-5784. (T.B.)

Outlaw Printmakers The Outlaw Printmakers describe their work as "tough and incarnate with an evil edge." The work is definitely tough, even naughty in some cases, but there's nothing evil about the frankness, passion and humor the artists in this large group show use to tackle social and political themes. Jenny Schmid employs imagery reminiscent of medieval art to create work dealing with teen sexuality; "Teenage Boy Cataclysm" and "Fast Girl, Knocked Up" combine religious and mythological symbols with contemporary objects such as skateboards. Tom Huck's "Beef Bucket Buffet" depicts an overweight mother, father and son literally picking the brains out of a cow skull on the dinner table in front of them. Sue Coe's clever lithograph "Xenotransplantation" features a rat with a full-grown human ear grafted on its back -- under the title, Coe writes, "She has the right to listen, but not speak." Through June 26 at the Dennis Morgan Gallery, 114 Southwest Blvd., 816-842-8755. (T.B.)

A Painting for Over the Sofa (That's Not Necessarily a Painting) Art dealer Bernice Steinbaum claims she can't remember a single week when at least one of her clients didn't ask to see a painting to hang over the sofa. Fed up with all the couch-centric collecting, Steinbaum put together a traveling exhibit of 18 works by well-known contemporary artists, including Hung Liu, Joe Walters, Louis Bourgeois and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, displaying each piece over a plastic inflatable couch. Her primary intent seems to be to poke fun at people who see art as a decorating accessory, but the show also raises questions about contemporary art collecting. Steinbaum writes that, as curator, her hope is that "everyone who sees this exhibition will become more comfortable with good art in their homes." But the plastic couches cheapen the feel of the show, and many of the works are too oblique to make much of a point about art as décor. Ultimately, Deborah Willis' "Red Nails" best suits the show's conflicting objectives. The photograph of a female bodybuilder has been cropped to show only the middle of her vein-lined thighs and the tips of three fingers tapering off in long, shiny, red nails. The icky sexiness of the fingernails suggestively juxtaposed against the muscular thighs is hard to turn away from. Through June 20 at the Spencer Museum of Art, 1301 Mississippi in Lawrence, 785-864-4710. (T.B. )

Mary Ann Strandell: The Polygot Series and Nina Bovasso: New Paintings and Works on Paper Although St. Louis-based Mary Ann Strandell describes her own work as a "post-conceptual celebration of hyperspace," it looks like the kind of thing that Crown Center's Bloom would display if that store carried fine art. Strandell's prints blend vibrantly colored flowers, bubbles, birds and waterfalls with Asian-inspired prints and hard-edged geometric shapes. She uses 3-D lenticular printing, which produces an optical illusion: When viewers walk by, her images appear to be moving. This makes a good match for New York artist Nina Bovasso's acrylic paintings composed of small, multicolored circles and squares surrounded by tiny, looping lines. (Her palette includes everything from fluorescents to metallics to earth tones.) The graphic masses of wiry marks seem to swell with a nervous potential energy, as if they were about to bounce across the composition. Through July 31 at the Byron C. Cohen Gallery for Contemporary Art, 2020 Baltimore, 816-421-5665. (T.B.)

Voice of Authority: Women's Use of Text in Visual Art If Oprah had seen this exhibition while she was in Kansas City on Mother's Day weekend, the talk-show host would've found art to complement her women's self-improvement mantra. For her ongoing project What Was Beautiful, University of Kansas fine arts professor Tanya Hartman records her daily observations of beauty, combining typewritten descriptions with blobs of acrylic paint and long lines of black stitching; the delicate and poetic result resembles a whited-out rough-draft essay on notebook paper. Elsewhere in the show, Shawnee artist Joy Baer paints frescoes inspired by the ancient aesthetics and languages of Pompeii, Egypt and China. She paints handwritten, often unintelligible messages into the wet plaster, then covers those soft images with a veil of words. And Lawrence-based Heather Jones Smith transcribes text from her grandmother's journals and letters onto paper through pinhole drawings, and egg-tempura and oil painting. Through June 25 at CKSpace@ Mpress, 1715 Baltimore, 816-419-1040. (T.B.)

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