Our critics recommend these shows.

Art Capsule Reviews 

Our critics recommend these shows.

Before and After Kevin McGraw refers to himself as a "junkyard guy." Based on this show, the description is accurate. The title refers to the objects — metal traffic signs, skateboard pieces, tire treads, mudflaps — that McGraw frequently finds along the sides of roads. He incorporates these materials into photographs of assemblages he's already made. There's a bit of trickery here. From far enough away, the real objects blend with the photographs, and we're caught between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional worlds. In "Ortho," a metal can of wasp repellent is smashed and rusted but recontextualized and revitalized through its placement alongside other aging metals, all of which sit in a heavy (some of the pieces weigh in at more than 80 pounds) industrial frame. The work gives new meaning to the idea of recycling. Through March 25 at the Back Room Gallery, Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore, 816-474-1919. (R.T.B.)

Celebrating a Grand Gift: The Hallmark Photographic Collection On January 12, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art announced that when its new Bloch Building opens in 2007, it will house the 6,500-piece Hallmark Photographic Collection. Keith Davis, director of Hallmark's fine-art programs, has spent 25 years assembling the collection — which, with its emphasis on the history of American work, is considered one of the best in the country. Davis has organized a 31-piece exhibit to tempt our palates. The show includes important works by such greats as Chuck Close, Alfred Stieglitz and Man Ray as well as two teasers from Hallmark's extensive daguerreotype collection and Harry Callahan's "Ireland," one of 320 Callahan holdings. Just try to take your eyes off Irving Penn's gorgeous subject in "Woman in Moroccan Palace, Marrakech," her face turned to confront the camera, the corners of her painted lips turned up oh so slightly. (Penn's a fashion photographer to the core.) Or Carrie Mae Weems' highly detailed prints of Ebos Landing, where, the legend goes, a number of West African slaves chose suicide as their freedom, drowning themselves in Dunbar Creek. (Some say that on quiet nights, their ghosts can be heard chanting in the marsh.) Our favorites include the film still of a 22-year-old Cindy Sherman, Ilse Bing's self-portrait and Barbara Morgan's 1939 photo montage "Hearst Over the People." Through April 30 in Gallery 208 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak, 816-561-4000. (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.)

A Family Affair Nine artists collaborated with their own family members for this show, where we discovered the cool older sisters and brothers we wanted to be when we grew up — as well as the creepy uncles whose moist handshakes we wanted to avoid. In their unique "Family Portrait," Becky and Mary Ann Sullivan sew material onto a cloth canvas, reducing a family's identity to anonymous poses (a hand on the shoulder of a spouse, the outline of a baby propped onto the shoulder of her parent) — except for the clothing they wear, all of the other details are absent. Through a series of photographs, Greg and Lizzie Lamer's "Rich, Sandy, Lizzie and Greg" documents Greg's heart surgery from the intimate perspective of his sister. Michael, Richard and Saundra Stickrod's documentary shorts "Vacation Money" and "After the War" are engaging, odd perspectives in quick character sketches. Elsewhere, Meg and Marilyn Doll's "Fat Couch" depicts a clan whose members are separated from one another yet artificially joined on one long, digitally manipulated divan. The family members here (who aren't fat, by the way) are mostly smiles, save for the artist (Meg Doll, who co-curated the show with Brendan Meara), who is stuck in a stoic stare. Families can have that effect on a person. We thought the "Six Drawing Series" by Tim and Michael Dieterle and Julie, Fawn and Abby Scott-Cox was best saved for a personal journal rather than public exhibition. Through March 4 at The Bank, 11th St. and Baltimore, 816-221-5115. (R.T.B.)

Five Acres Inspired by the wooded landscape of his upbringing, Kurt Lightner constructs sizable collages from hundreds of hand-cut pieces of painted Mylar, a process that generates works with a luminous, stirring energy. The series is striking in its polarity — in each of these nine pieces, individual elements are often repeated, yet the tones are overwhelmingly distinctive. Anchoring the images are vibrant flowers; lush, cellular growths; and solid trunks. But with additional layers comes the darker, more sinister side of a forest. One piece is thick with slender, blue-black foliage obscuring flashes of a bright background; another, the largest in the exhibition (and our favorite), stacks veiny mushrooms impaled on long, thin stalks atop a large, volcanic structure glittering with almost Klimt-like details. The collages are imbued with nostalgia, imagination and, strangely, an arresting sense of hunger. Through April 2 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick, 816-756-5784. (A.F.)

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.)

Gimmicks: Peter Demos, Jordan Nickel and Ben Bertucci Jordan Nickel and Ben Bertucci combine authentic movie posters (they like '70s films) with ones they've manipulated for comic and dramatic effect. Both are partners in a design company they call We Are Supervision. (Not coincidentally, in the fake or doctored posters, the name "W.A. Supervision" frequently appears in the film's credits.) Rather than speculate about which ones are the real deal and which have been altered, it's more fun to take the titles of the movies — and their taglines — as personal narratives for the artists. We suspect both are recovering from broken relationships. To wit: "The Bed's Too Big Without You" hangs next to the raunchy "Everybody's Girl" ("She used to be your girl ..."), followed by "Just for Tonight" ("Make it last forever"), then "Stay Hungry" and "Breaking Away" ("Somewhere between growing up and settling down"). Be sure to make it to the women's restroom, where there's an ad for "Teenage Graffiti," a print the artists loved too much to keep entirely out of the show. Their fellow Kansas City Art Institute graduate Peter Demos supplies abstract, heavily dropped paintings for an interesting contrast. Through March 4 at Paragraph, 23 E. 12th St., 816-221-5115. (R.T.B.)

Group Show The Sherry Leedy gallery turns 20 this year. Commemorating its birthday are nine artists who have shown their work at the gallery, plus one making his first appearance there. The group is diverse in media and reputation. World-renowned sculptor Dale Chihuly is represented by his now-familiar but still intriguing glass sculptures; eight of his lesser-known works — acrylic on paper drawings — involve mad splashes of neon in coffee-mug-stain circles and cursive squiggles, revealing a different side of the artist. Kansas City Art Institute graduate and instructor Laura DeAngelis uses text and a complex combination of science and art to depict the five stages of life in her ceramic sculptures. One bust is part compass, one is a terrestrial map, another features an internal sundial, and still another is a working astrolabe — it's an exceptionally ambitious and beautiful display. Marcus Cain's first work displayed at the gallery, simple mixed-media works, includes "Human Beings as Mountains," a series made of bright swaths of color that unfold to reveal (abstractly) a human face. Through Feb. 25 at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, 2004 Baltimore, 816-221-2626. (R.T.B.)

Nature's Abstractions The Apex Gallery is located inside Crossroads Dentistry, proving that a visit to the dentist's office doesn't have to be painful. The four artists — Susana B., Derrick Breidenthal, Sidney Cothran and Theresa English — have studio space at the Arts Incubator around the corner. Each shows approximately 10 pieces here, and the variety is the show's strong point. Cothran's watercolor "God" depicts the entity as one bright, ambiguous display of colors; "Constellation" appears as an old maritime map with hair-covered islands connected by plotted dots. English interestingly depicts the four seasons through a variety of photo collages. Susana B.'s acrylic land- and seascapes become monotonous ("Iowa Field" and "California Coast" look awfully similar), but Derrick Breidenthal's untitled abstract oil paintings — perhaps the best of the bunch — portray nature as a sometimes unrecognizable and mysterious force. Hurry — the show's last day is February 11. At the Apex Gallery (inside Crossroads Dentistry), 1819 Wyandotte, 816-561-2315. (R.T.B.)


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