Our critics recommend these shows.

Art Capsule Reviews 

Our critics recommend these shows.

Extra/ordinary: Fiber Artists Rethinking Art and Everyday Life There's a piece in Extra/ordinary that nicely sums up this group show. It's Michelle Carol Fried's embroidered work depicting a little girl stitching a hankie. Above her, a thought bubble reads: "fuck it." To some extent, that's the motivating force behind the show. For this exhibit (in conjunction with June's International Surface Design Conference), curator Maria Elena Buszek takes on the stereotype of a fiber artist -- an older woman wearing copious layers of hand-dyed clothing -- and kicks it to the curb. Although fiber art still seems the domain of women (there's one man in this show), it's the sort of woman who listens to indie rock. Jenny Hart is the perfect example, embroidering illustrations of rock gods and goddesses like Iggy Pop and Marianne Faithfull: old craft, new twist. Mark Newport's "My Batman" is a Batman costume knit from acrylic yarn, complete with eye holes and horns. It hangs sadly on the wall, unlike the firm latex suits we've grown used to in recent Batman movies. And we can't stop thinking about Maggy Rozycki Hiltner's hand-stitched depictions of domesticated animals gone wrong. In "Pet Fish," a kid drags a fish on a leash, and we laugh. In "Play Time," a little girl lets a dog up her skirt, and we wince. Through July 9 at the Cube at Beco, 1922 Baltimore, 816-582-8997. (R.B.)

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.)

Max Key Max Key breaks rules, and his brightly colored paintings don't just work in spite of that -- they work, in part, because of it. To break rules successfully, you have to know which rules to break, have a reason for breaking them (aside from sheer rebelliousness), and break them with confidence, not arrogance. Looking at "Pistol Thieves," one of the larger works in this collection, is a breathtaking experience because the painting doesn't look like the sort of thing you're likely to encounter anywhere else. It's a night landscape, and the dominant color is black -- it doesn't rely heavily on deep purples and blues. A lattice of brightly colored lanterns strung through tree branches jumps out at the viewer, creating a simple, pop-arty, almost wallpapery pattern to entice. The tree branches and the birds that sit in them appear as stark, black silhouettes. Meanwhile, light from the lanterns diffuses naturally and realistically in the background -- with all the easily forgotten yellows and browns that color humid, nighttime summer skies. Combining these three distinct painting techniques, Key makes his work look three-dimensional, as though the branches and lanterns and birds were screens hung over the night-sky background. If you didn't know there were formal painting rules against many of the techniques that created this effect, you'd never guess just by looking -- which is what we like to call pulling it off. Through June 25 at the Fahrenheit Gallery, 1717 West 9th St., 816-304-5477. (G.K.)

Chunghie Lee, Pojagi and Beyond; Anne Lindberg, Silences; Wendy Lugg, Common Threads; Jason Pollen, Chrysalis Fiber fans, consider yourself warned. A sign accompanying these four exhibits (all in conjunction with June's International Surface Design Conference) reads: "Please curb your textile urges and do not touch the fabric!" Duly noted. But we'd still like to put our paws on Anne Lindberg's work. "Old Brain" looks like a pile of hair on the floor (it's actually rayon thread), and all we want to do is dig through it. Other pieces incorporate wire that Lindberg has gently twisted into words -- text from Terry Tempest Williams and Theodore Roethke -- in an even, loopy script that recalls penmanship practice books. Chungie Lee draws inspiration from pojagi, the traditional Korean wrapping cloth, crafting dramatic patchwork pieces screen-printed with images of her ancestors. Also on display: Jason Pollen's mats with fused paint, thread and silk; and Wendy Lugg's works incorporating Japanese textiles. Through August 5 at the Belger Arts Center, 2100 Walnut, 816-474-3250. (R.B.)

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 W. 23rd St. 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 the silent but deadly point. Through June 26 at the Society for Contemporary Photography, 2012 Baltimore, 816-471-2115. (A.F.)

Past in Reverse We like contemporary Asian pop art as much as anyone else. But we think it's a bit sad that, to many people, contemporary Asian pop art is the only kind of contemporary Asian art that exists (especially now that the style is -- understandably -- being imitated and appropriated worldwide). Enter Past in Reverse, a traveling exhibit from the San Diego Museum of Art that offers works from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. Among the most notable works are a landscape created by fireworks' gunpowder holes on a painting's surface, and video of a mirrored dinghy taking passengers on solitary journeys along the most bustling part of Hong Kong's waterfront. There's art you can sit on and art you can play with, too. Through August 28 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick, 816-753-5784. (G.K.)

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