Our critics recommend these shows.

Art Capsule Reviews 

Our critics recommend these shows.

Beautiful Fractals Barista and visual artist Leto Blackman apparently isn't shy about self-promotion. As the general manager of the coffee shop that exhibits his work, Blackman has taken advantage of the position's perks. One of them is the response he hears from behind the counter as customers — primarily coffee drinkers, not necessarily art enthusiasts — react to his art. The work enthralled us with its subdued, delicate, nearly dainty images of nature. These nine mixed-media pieces use watercolor, ink and charcoal to reveal the true characteristics of trees and branches. Blackman, a 2000 Kansas City Art Institute photo and new-media graduate, says the work explores the "reoccurrence of fractals in nature." We could see that even without the double-espresso firing our synapses. Through Jan. 15 at Latteland, 4771 Jefferson, 816-931-7577. (R.T.B.)

Decelerate At the opening reception for Decelerate, a stranger with a wide, deranged grin pulled us over to Jacob El Hanani's drawings and said, "They're just doodles. I mean, he made the same marks over and over. What's the point?" Never mind that El Hanani's work is insanely detailed, that one piece can take years to finish. Never mind that the artist is raising larger questions about time — and how the rest of us spend it. This is an age of instant gratification, when we want to assign a "point" as quickly and efficiently as possible. Of course, this stranger was entitled to his opinion. But perhaps he should consider the soothing and meditative qualities of the exhibition, which also includes Jennifer Steinkamp's computer-animated projection of fluidity and grace, and a crowd-favorite floor sculpture by Anne Lindberg. Perhaps he should reflect, if only for a moment, on the unimportant filler that makes up most of our days. Perhaps he should just take a deep breath. Through Feb. 19 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick, 816-753-5784. (A.F.)

Deanna Dikeman: Wardrobe We don't get out to thrift stores like we used to, but Columbia, Missouri, photographer Deanna Dikeman's recent show will suffice. According to her artist's statement, Dikeman's project began with photographs she took at a favorite secondhand shop called The Wardrobe. Like a yearbook of fashion and style over the past six decades — featuring the gaudy, the gauche, the luxurious and the regrettable — her photographs reveal how clothes appear without bodies to give them life. Images of blouses, robes, summer dresses and raincoats are vertically or horizontally spliced together as Dikeman rearranges the clothes. Once-popular accoutrements long relegated to darker regions of the closet are reborn here in crisp, vibrant detail — and rendered newly respectable because they are displayed in an art gallery and because of the high quality of the photographs. On the lower level of the gallery, Elaine Duigenan's intriguing Nylon: An Intimate Archeology re-contextualizes the familiar, 400-year-old synthetic. Through Feb. 18 at the Society for Contemporary Photography, 520 Avenida Cesar E. Chavez, 816-471-2115. (R.T.B.)

Marvin Gates: Paintings Gates is a visual artist who delights in transforming the normal, mundane aspects of city life into odd, unfeeling reality. His work is remarkably consistent; many of the paintings show the same people and objects, all perfectly symmetrical and neatly arranged. The four-part series "On Things to Come, 2001-2004" contains two pieces ("Forwards" and "The Blue Bag") thrust up against each other on adjoining walls, near mirrors. Each depicts not only a familiar scene — a busy grid of taxis, faceless humans on sidewalks, cars and buses rushing by — but also decidedly less familiar things: strange forms with skulls for heads and oversized hands and feet. In "Head of the Driver," a hearse delivers humanity into the Great Unknown symbolized by a hanging black curtain while a skull watches from the left. This is a disjointed narrative of life in an alternate, anonymous and ultimately unforgiving world. Through Feb. 16 at the Dolphin, 1901 Baltimore, 816-842-5877. (R.T.B.)

Pastoral Barbarism In his paintings, Lawrence artist Aaron Marable blurs historical figures with fantasy to produce a confused, intriguing and complex narrative. Frequently, archetypes mingle with elements of pop culture to create a vibrant stew of color and violence. Many of the works feature bloodshed and brutality in a variety of contexts, as if such actions were inescapable. Typical is "...With God on Their Side," in which a soldier loads his musket as he stands in the mouth of a much larger soldier who is reclining, a week's worth of whiskers on his cheeks. On top of this enormous soldier stands a tiny George Washington reading from scrolled parchment. A woman tends to a nearby third soldier, who is wounded and dying. At least four or five realities occur at one time; one image fights for attention with the other, and characters overlap in a fever dream of surreal, mostly Americana-inspired images. Marable applies paint in thick brush strokes fueled by a generous supply of passion — the act of violence influencing the process of painting itself. Through Jan. 21 at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore, 816-474-1919. (R.T.B.) Reviews of art shows by


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