Our critics recommend these shows.

Art Capsule Reviews 

Our critics recommend these shows.

Polly Apfelbaum Like any good artist, Polly Apfelbaum makes complex work. But it is also dazzlingly beautiful, which in the past has caused some snooty art-world folk to dismiss it as mere décor. "People don't want you to deal with beauty," Apfelbaum says. "I was interested in the decorative arts. I was interested in the everyday. Screw you. If it is my sensibility to make something very, very beautiful, I want to do it." Squeezed into the Kemper's main gallery are 14 pieces spanning 13 years of her New York City-based career. The space seems a little tight for the show (the longest piece measures in at 40 feet), but the cramped quarters create an interesting dialogue among the works. Lately, Apfelbaum has been creating complicated installations of synthetic fabrics dyed in a hallucinogenic range of colors (as many as 104 of them), cut into thousands of tiny pieces and arranged on a floor. "Split," a recent addition to the Kemper's permanent collection, covers the blond hardwood floor along the north end of the gallery like a black, bubbly oil spill. Branching out from its glistening, black-and-white body are long fingers of color. Also on display are several of Apfelbaum's early, pop-culture influenced pieces, such as "Pocket Full of Posies," a ring of cut-out steel flowers that lies flat on the floor. Through Sept. 5 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick Blvd., 816-753-5784. (T.B.)

Avenue of the Arts "Silly" seems to be the overwhelming theme of this year's Avenue of the Arts, a temporary installation of six public-art pieces along Central Avenue downtown. Kansas City Art Institute printmaking teacher Laura Berman's "Cowboys and Indians" has a 'zine-aesthetic-meets-the-USDA's-latest-fruit-campaign feel, along with a 1950s-nostalgia twist: Large-scale, black-and-white, photocopy-quality images of children in cowboy and Indian costumes are attached to the walls of a parking garage between 10th and 11th avenues, though they have been holding fruit instead of toy weapons. (This piece is reportedly supposed to change as the summer goes by, so keep an eye out.) Mark Cowardin's "Out in the Open," between 13th and 14th streets, consists of (nonworking) kitchen, utility and bathroom sinks rising above the sidewalks with the support of their plumbing. Described as a "tourist viewer," Maria Velasco's "City With a View," a replica of the pay binoculars (free here) often installed near the edges of scenic vistas, sits near the corner of 11th and Central. A look through the piece reveals notable downtown architectural landmarks, such as the Lyric Opera building, with office workers scaling walls and lounging on rooftops. Hesse McGraw, Rachel Hayes and Michael Jones McKean also contribute works. Through September on Central Avenue between 10th and 14th streets. (T.B.)

Black and White in America: Photography of the Civil Rights Era The essay accompanying Black and White in America: Photography of the Civil Rights Era reminds readers that before television became commonplace in the mid-1960s, Americans received their visual news through newspaper and magazine photographs. The stillness and detail of the images on display in this exhibit invite contemplation of the meanings and repercussions of the moments they capture in a way that today's TV coverage cannot. The photographs include portraits, photojournalism and more personal artistic endeavors, but each of them embodies an element of the struggle for racial justice. Roy De Carava's "Hallway-Harlem, New York" depicts a long, narrow corridor lighted with a single dingy light bulb and disappearing into a black hole of a shadow. He writes that the photograph reminded him of the hallways he walked through as a child in Harlem. "They were poor, poor tenements, badly lit, narrow and confining, hallways that had something to do with the economics of building for poor people." Through October 3 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak, 816-751-1278. (T.B.)

Composite Kansas City-based fiber artists Holly Swangstu and Mary Beth Yates create work that goes together like peanut butter goes with jelly -- they're both pretty tasty on their own, but they're even better combined. Swangstu layers thin, roughly textured strips of cloth like house siding. She frames many of her pieces with unfinished, splintered pieces of wood. Yates' work, on the other hand, seems inspired by a backyard swimming pool. The artist embroiders bubble shapes on top of translucent fabric dyed with wavy lines that resemble sunlight reflecting underwater. The coarse, rugged sensibility of Swangstu's work creates an interesting contrast to Yates' light and airy dying and embroidery. Both artists' palettes include summery hues of yellow, green, blue and magenta. Also available for purchase are neckties and scarves hand-dyed by the artists. Through July 31 at the Mixed Bag Gallery, 5 W. 19th St., 913-579-8514 or 913-908-0831. (T.B.)

Adam Hayes "You want it. You need it. For women and men" -- that's toilet paper, as described in an inscription by Adam Hayes, whose slogan-bearing paintings are on view at Coffee Girls and The Farm. Using an unlikely combination of materials, including latex house paint and pastels, Hayes creates seductively simple, comic-book-style portraits of pretty people. Thin, light-peach-colored outlines of figures assuming variations on the pose fill the rest of the frame, creating the impression of stances being rehearsed and perfected. The figures are accompanied by slogans such as "Indecision is the must-have accessory of the season"; "Consequences!!! So tasty you won't want to share"; and "White lies. Giving you style wherever you go." At The Farm, don't miss photos depicting local seamstress Susan Wiegand's fashions (as modeled by the artist), with catalog-style text detailing political contexts for each ensemble (what to wear to a hearing in the new McCarthyism, for example). You can try on the clothing in the back of the gallery. We'll be heading back for the "Vote With Your Whole Body" T-shirt, which Wiegand assures customers "pulls off easily should political sparring turn flirtatious." Through July 31 at Coffee Girls (310 Southwest Blvd.) and The Farm (500 E. 18th St.). (G.K.)

Reflection on the Bush Years When Elaine Mills gets pissed off, she paints. Watching the election debacle of 2000 got her blood boiling, and making art was one way to release her frustrations. "I would go down in my studio every night when I got home from work, and I would do a new drawing," Mills says. Her artwork fills the second floor of the Pi Gallery, beginning with a collection of 11 ink-brush drawings on sketchbook paper created in response to that infamous election, followed by watercolors inspired by snapshots of the World Trade Center that Mills took while traveling in New York City the weekend before 9/11. The show culminates with a series of eight acrylic paintings based on her reactions to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, accompanied by an entry from the journal she kept before painting. But Mills never intended for this cathartic artwork to end up in a gallery, and the show's most intimate moments aren't in Mills' paintings. Visually, her square canvases covered with abstract smears and drips lack originality: Splattered red paint stands for bloodshed; a large, flatly painted black rectangle represents oil. In her journal entries, though, the artist responds more personally to what she sees and hears of the war coverage. Through July 31 at the Pi Gallery, 419 E. 18th St. (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.)

Sun Spots The Dolphin Gallery has been a place of mystery lately. It hasn't been putting out brochures for shows, and its windows have demanded only that we vote right by voting left -- good advice, but not very helpful as far as letting the passer-by know what's on display inside. The current art could change at any time without warning, on a whim, with the exception of the Sun Spots display by Don Kottman. This is a wall of painted newspaper pages, most of which appear to be taken from The Calgary Sun. Colorful spots with various degrees of opacity cover the reported text, with ominous bits and pieces legible here and there -- the usual daily-paper stuff about oil companies, parental responsibility and real estate markets. Trying to read the newspaper information really is like looking at the sun -- the recognizable pieces of reality wouldn't be discernible if you didn't already know what was there. One of these pieces probably wouldn't look like much on its own, but a whole wall plastered in them leaves quite an impression. The Dolphin Gallery, 1901 Baltimore, 816-842-5877. (G.K.)

2004 River Market Regional Exhibition This is the best show to hit the Kansas City Artists Coalition in a long time. (Too often it seems like the artists on display at the KCAC put more thought into their signatures than into the actual artwork.) Shannon Fitzgerald, curator of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, whittled 944 submissions down to 29 artists working in a variety of media, including painting, photography and sculpture. Standouts include top prizewinner Celeste Marble's installation "Hanging Garden," a lush, junglelike assemblage of watercolor papers that hang like leaves from the gallery's ceiling. Noriko Ebersole's "One-A-Day Drawings: 365 Self-Portraits" features (surprise!) 365 pencil drawings of the artist on tiny sheets of sketchpad paper. Ebersole scrawls short reflections of the day's events on some of the papers. The narrative she creates provides a poignant look into the artist's life that is missing from the stone-faced expressions of her self-portraits. Through August 6 at the Kansas City Artists Coalition, 201 Wyandotte, 816-421-5222.

Ungood Despite its title, Ungood is a very good show. (The name comes from George Orwell's 1984, but it's used here not as a qualitative adjective but as a sort of descriptive noun for the complex subjective and metaphorical realm in which artists work.) In what sounds like the makings of a reality-TV-show plot, curator James Brinsfield gathers 16 local artists of varying ages and experience levels and allows each to select his or her own pieces, then decide as a group where to display the work within the offices of architecture firm Shaw-Hofstra and Associates. Visually, Ungood is a mixed bag, everything from Miles Neidinger's garland of white plastic ties, to Karen Nease's geometric collages of pattern papers, to Marcus Cain's grid-covered figure drawings. Through September 10 at Shaw-Hofstra and Associates, 1717 Oak, 816-421-0505. (T.B.)

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