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.)

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.)

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.)

Turbulent Although we often say that Jessica Simpson shouldn't be allowed to sing, we don't mean that her onstage cooing and pouting should be illegal — just that she should consider a less cloying form of expression. Iran's leaders, on the other hand, aren't just trying to spare their countrymen such irritations by not allowing women there to participate in public musical performances. Drawing upon that prohibition to make a larger comment on gender inequality in her homeland, artist Shirin Neshat has created a 10-minute video work titled Turbulent in which she stages a vocal duel between Sjoha Youssefi Azari and Sussan Deyhim. On one screen, Azari faces the viewer with an all-male audience behind him; on another screen directly opposite the first, Deyhim stands alone in an otherwise empty auditorium. With Deyhim shrouded in black, Azari begins a lovely, melodic song with traditional lyrics adapted from Rumi. As he finishes, looking pleased (as he should — the man has a gorgeous voice), he hears an unsettling rumble. Deyhim has begun her own performance on the other screen, a series of disquieting improvisations, rapid grunts and high-pitched shrieks. Her expression of freedom is shocking, primal and extraordinarily beautiful. Through March 26 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak, 816-561-4000. (A.F.)

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