Our critics recommend these shows.

Art Capsule Reviews 

Our critics recommend these shows.

Ghada Amer Barbie clothes always have some kind of ridiculous waistband tailored to the fashionable doll's strangely shaped torso. Ken's midsection is no less bizarre. Nothing highlights this more clearly than seeing Barbie and Ken clothes enlarged to fit real people. One of Ghada Amer's most well-known early pieces -- "Barbie Aime Ken, Ken Aime Barbie (Barbie Loves Ken, Ken Loves Barbie)" -- does just that. In the same space where viewers can see this early evidence of Amer's pioneering work in fiber (she is an inspiration for a number of the daring young artists whose work is displayed in other galleries around town as part of the Surface Design Conference), the huge paintings for which she is best known also are on display. These are canvases covered with embroidered patterns that look like abstract designs at first glance but turn out, on closer inspection, to be repeated images of women having a lot of fun being naked. It's usually hard to tell exactly what they're doing because they're tangled up in layers of thread -- one painting's title, "Knotty But Nice," perfectly sums up this effect. Amer considers herself an abstract expressionist -- which means you only kind of need to know what's going on. That they're naked, having fun and alone is usually good enough. Through July 16 at the H&R Block Artspace, 16 E. 43rd St., 816-561-5563. (G.K.)

Bend Debra Di Blasi's abstract paintings are about math and communication -- superstring theory, to be specific. Anne Austin Pearce's ink-on-vellum creations -- called Rhetorical Black Holes -- look like cells under a microscope, only prettier, with a pink-dominated color scheme that says "spring" in a way that nothing you observed in your 10th-grade chemistry class ever could have. But haters of solving for X should not be afraid; this is art, not math -- or is it? (Insert ominous music here.) Also, when checking out the work by Pearce and Di Blasi, don't pass too quickly by the work in the Late Show's back room -- in particular, Heather Marton's series of prints that layer Warsaw ghetto imagery with floral patterns and other gleeful visual material in an attempt to process the Holocaust. That's a brave thing for an edgy young artist to do right now, when the mention of a book, documentary or art exhibit dealing with the oft-explored subject tends to elicit eye-rolling. Marton is fascinated by the role of hope during the Holocaust, and she has selected photographs in which people look happy. This heightens our awareness of her subjects' mortality; their smiles make us uneasy. It's quite the visual mindfuck. Through July 31 at the Late Show, 1600 Cherry. For information, call 816-474-1300. (G.K.)

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.)

Inset/Onset Jason Manley and Jill Noone We like this show, and that's not just because one of the artists has the last name Manley. Manley does manly work, drilling holes into specially installed kitchen floors, walls and refrigerators. (The refrigerator, sadly, has not been turned on for the enjoyment of air-conditioning-starved art viewers.) This particular installation -- Nothing Is Everywhere -- is trippy and fun, even if the title hints that what you should be experiencing might be existential angst. Jill Noone's paintings play with vision and perception, which the nearsighted among us always appreciate, offering paintings layered on thick paper-and-masonite surfaces with holes revealing distant, pale, hard-to-discern colors or minicraters filled with concentric circles. Titled "Peach Astigmatism" and "Neutral Density Astigmatism," these paintings serve as a lovely reminder to make an appointment with the optometrist. Through July 9 at the Paragraph Gallery, 23 E. 12th St., 816-695-7734. (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. Chunghie 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.)

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.)

Raze: A Declaration of Independence Jay Norton was understandably concerned about the potential fallout over his latest exhibit. Political paintings are nothing new for him -- anyone who saw last fall's Grand Arts show for the Charlotte Street Award winners can attest to that -- but a collection of flags bearing images of bazookas and burkas could've turned troublesome. Particularly because some of the flags had been set on fire. And because Norton is a lawyer. And because the show opened on Independence Day weekend. That the work isn't anti-American but is, rather, a comment on the contrived patriotism that our country has been force-fed since 9-11 might have been lost on some viewers. But if you want to talk about desecration of our national banner, here's what we think: An emaciated African folded behind a fatty meal from McDonald's has nothin' on Dolly Parton. We caught the recast of PBS's 2003 A Capitol Fourth concert two days after attending Norton's opening, and the buxom blonde's sequined stars-and-stripes ensemble was about 17 times as offensive as any of the artwork we saw at the MoMO. Through Aug. 1 at MoMO Studio, 1830 Locust, 816-474-4814. (A.F.)

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