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Art Capsule Reviews 

Our critics recommend these shows.

Rebecca Dolan When we reflect on the last 23 years in an attempt to locate just which version of ourselves we would consider the most awkward and insecure, the answer is glaringly obvious. Seventh grade, when we considered oversized BUM sweatshirts haute couture? Sadly, no. Sophomore year, when we chopped our long blond locks into a seriously misinformed pageboy? Close, but no cigar. Our first week of college, when we dropped our lunch tray in front of the entire cafeteria? Doesn't even reach the top five. No, that most special time of life, which included those remnants of a bad perm, that extra padding our mom -- and only our mom -- still called baby fat, and daily relay races to make us genuinely consider the benefits of teen suicide can be summed up in two words: summer camp. So imagine our instantaneous full-body paralysis when we walked down the stairs of the Beth Allison Gallery and into a circle of digitally manipulated versions of our camp counselors. The twelve large, individual portraits show beaming, clear-eyed teenagers in matching orange polo shirts, each framed by a backdrop of lush green trees. To be honest, we still haven't recovered. Thanks for the memories, Rebecca. Through May 28 at the Beth Allison Gallery, 2012 Baltimore, 816-474-5637. (A.F.)

Summer Farrar: Good Intentions Rendering portraits -- in any medium -- is hard enough as it is. Capturing a model's essence, let alone getting the proportions of his nose, is no easy task. Summer Farrar, a graduating senior at the Kansas City Art Institute, leaves the canvas and Bristol board to her classmates and works with felted wool to depict her friends and family. The imperfect, organic nature of wool forms a lumpy and bumpy surface; embroidery thread outlines the features of Farrar's subjects, and additional embellishments, such as fabric and charcoal, enhance her creations. "Allie" pairs squares of felt with the delicate outline of a woman standing, but her face is obscured by thick white stitches that read like grains of rice. But amazingly, in works such as "Newlywed Pattern" and "All About Justin," the viewer forgets about the materials and sees the eyes in Farrar's pieces instead; these deceptively simple portraits somehow manage to convey her subjects' inner lives. Through May 28 at the Locust Street Gallery, 1605 Locust, 816-472-4977. (R.B.)

Fat Monks and Baby Rabbits Although we didn't see fat monks or baby rabbits at the Opie Gallery's exhibit of selected Leedy-Voulkos residents, we did see one of our favorite works of KC art ever. Sean Ward's "Military Processional Relief or Maybe Perhaps the Celtic Pantheon for Christ's Sake!" stopped us in our tracks and kept us there for a long time. (Our apologies to anyone whose view was obstructed by our extended demonstration of shock and awe.) An enormous vertical army of weapon-wielding pantyhose monsters climbing and crawling all over one another, their hairy, diseased bodies poised to attack, commands the entire gallery space. At first glance we thought they were blind, but the longer we looked, their peepers began to pop out unexpectedly, arranged precariously close to papier-mâché swords -- or, as the accompanying placard cheekily reports, paper machetes. (Careful! You'll put an eye out!) It's like a Muppet mob, and it's way more hysterical than we can describe. We also liked Seth Johnson's works, amorphous and beautiful pools of eyes, bones, hair and blood -- what we sort of considered a tribute to absorbed twins. At the Opie Gallery, 2012 Baltimore, 816-474-1919. (A.F.)

From Bingham to Benton, Midwest as Muse Those of us who grew up around here have seen paintings by Thomas Hart Benton and company from such an early age, and on such abysmally boring field trips, that the artists' work constitutes -- for us -- the visual equivalent of white noise. Incredibly, this exhibit could change that. George Caleb Bingham's "The Jolly Flatboatmen" alone would be worth the visit. Created in 1847, the painting enraged New York art appreciators for two reasons. First, the boatmen on the river playing fiddles, drinking and dancing were viewed as lowly commoners unworthy of a portrait. Second, the tranquil float scene did not cater to New Yorkers' fantasies of life in the wild, wild West. It's kind of like how, when you head to the coasts, people feel gypped that the only Kansan they know can't milk a cow. On display through July 31 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak, 816-751-1278. (G.K.)

Joan Truckenbrod: Against the Current We're mildly surprised that the final show in the Society for Contemporary Photography's current space is a video exhibit. (The gallery reopens at 520 West 23rd Street in the fall.) Joan Truckenbrod's montage of scenes is culled from an estuary, a geographical occurrence that the artist considers an embodiment of transformation -- from river to sea, from fresh water to salt water, etc. She alternates film shots of swimming salmon with the undulations of a nude woman in a similar body of water, and the whole reel plays out on the white sheet covering a hospital bed. It works as a comment on pollution and the disintegration of habitat -- neither the fish nor the woman looks sick, but we can nonetheless assume that each is dying. The strange little hand-knit salmon that litter the floor of the gallery border on distraction for us, but the video -- a strangely soothing display of contamination -- beautifully illustrates its silent but deadly point. Through June 26 at the Society for Contemporary Photography, 2012 Baltimore, 816-471-2115. (A.F.)

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