Our critics recommend these shows.

Art Capsule Reviews 

Our critics recommend these shows.

Elissa Armstrong: Objects of Innocence and Experience Lawrence artist Elissa Armstrong takes the lighthearted concept of "sit-arounds" (or "set-arounds," depending on how rural your accent is) —decorative objects, including porcelain unicorns, free-standing arrangements of dried flowers and Precious Moments figurines — and flips it on its innocent little head. For this show, the Alfred University-educated ceramist (and University of Kansas assistant professor) gathers childlike lambs, bunnies and deer at thrift stores and garage sales and creates others with lowbrow, craft-store molds. She then adds heaps of bumpy plaster, douses the sculptures in glaze and glitter and affixes long, tubular clay appendages. Some of these subversive figurines look virtually untouched; others are so distorted they're practically abstract. Arranged together on a flat plane, though, the 11 sculptures begin to make sense as an illustration of evolution or devolution— it's up to the viewer to decide which. Through Oct. 1 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick, 816-753-5784. (A.F.)

Martin Cail and Ernest Wedoff If this show were an artistic duel, we'd put our money on Martin Cail's dreamy, odd paintings over Wedoff's slightly repetitious portraits. Cail seems to be channeling the hyperactive imagination of a sugar-fueled child. "Young Grudge" humorously portrays the titular tension using a baby carriage and an ax, "Temper Temper" appears like a topographical mood map in green and pink, and "Drifting" shows a creature floating on water atop a life raft or flying through the galaxy — it's hard to tell which. "Cosmic Candy Counter 669," with its rainbow-bubblegum colors, could have been a prototype for Willy Wonka's famous factory. Interspersed throughout are Wedoff's portraits of friends, individuals posed against repeated-figure backgrounds from advertising (especially Calvin Klein's recognizable "C"). Wedoff uses photography, printmaking and painting to explore the point where identity is usurped by ubiquitous corporate logos. Through Aug. 26 at Grothaus and Pearl Gallery, 2012 Baltimore, 816-471-1015. (R.T.B.)

Collect All Four How about if we collect two instead? Julie Farstad uses stark imagery to convey a nightmarish reality, placing painted toy baby dolls in compromising positions; the slightly grotesque, shiny baby fat in her paintings is indelible. In "Bad Bad Girls," one doll lifts the dress of the other for a spanking against an austere, glowing-red background. In "Stunt Girl's Sweet Reward," the girl doll has fallen down a model staircase as clay butterflies flit about in an empty, green world. Allie Rex's untitled works are a series of complex, delicate paper sculptures. One captures vague memories of a childhood visit to a theme park where kids ride a twirling swing set; another uses colored pencils to create a paper version of a fireworks display. Linnea Spransy's cold, diagrammatic illustrations meander, though, and Kariann Fuqua's obtuse and almost impressionistic renderings of urban locales look straight out of Office Art, circa 1981. Through July 29 at the Byron C. Cohen Gallery for Contemporary Art, 2020 Baltimore, 816-421-5665. (R.T.B.)

Jeremy Collins If you need an excuse to visit Pidgeon — other than to shop for really great clothing and accessories — you'll find it in Jeremy Collins' exquisitely crafted paintings. Collins explores themes that seem to arise from our collective unconscious. In "Tug," silhouetted human figures struggle to keep a rope strung tightly across a vast canyon so that the figure walking the line won't fall into the abyss. The canvas is shiny and lacquered, the colors are ominous and tempestuous (especially the dark sky), and beneath the paint we catch glimpses of an old map. In "Taunt," we get the sense that a force hovers above us, wielding the strings. His work is eerie, but beautifully so. Through Aug. 4 at Pidgeon, 1810 Baltimore, 816-842-0093. (A.E.F.)

Family Pack: Artists Exploring Parenthood In her exploration of parenthood, Betsey Schneider apparently discovered that her children are specimens to be examined through a camera lens like bacteria under a microscope. "Seven" is 350 images of what we assume is her 7-year-old daughter in basically the same pose at various stages of undress. (Though this isn't the focal point of the piece, we can't help but notice that the girl is completely disrobed in 25 of the snapshots.) Suzette Bross gives us a more humorous depiction of parenthood by photographing her child in-utero. The belly that eclipses her face in "Self-Portrait (obstructed)," which peeks out from the frame of another picture and duels with the toothbrush in still another, could be the character in a low-budget horror film titled The Belly. In "Day Before Daphne — 1 thru 4," Bross hits a more somber note, digitally engraving pictures of her hand-swaddled belly into four heavy crystals. Through July 29 at Society for Contemporary Photography, 2012 Baltimore, 816-471-2115. (A.E.F.)

The Feminine Mystique: Portraits of and by Women In an effort to explore the late-19th- and early-20th-century period of first-wave feminism, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has opened an installation in Gallery P27, where 16 permanent works are being exhibited for the first time in years. The subjects mostly represent the family, friends and lovers of some of the most celebrated artists of their time. Long necks and youthful faces are abundant; these are some pretty ladies. The mouth of Redon's Salomé is set in a satisfactory pout, of course — her looks have brought her the head of John the Baptist (portrayed with Redon's features). And there are flirtatious lilts in the lips of Matisse's "Head of a Woman" and Picasso's portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter. But our favorite is the glamorous muse portrayed in "The Red Umbrella" by Jacques Villon (Gaston Duchamp): The lovely Parisian looks relaxed and confident, but her eyes belie an unmistakable haughtiness — perhaps even something darker. These women might have been gunning for equality, but we suspect they made plenty of men feel damned inferior. Through Oct. 1 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak, 816-751-1278. (A.F.)

Max Key and Chris Teasley Seeing one of Max Key's vibrant, large-scale paintings is like getting a fantastic, all-consuming crush on someone. The beauty of Key's obsessive botanical patterns is the initial draw. Then, over time, you begin projecting enviable qualities on the object of your desire. As you stare at the multilayered designs, you perceive strength in the blooms of "Mother Menthol," compassion in the copper-colored birds in "Seasonal Divorce," intellect in the graceful wisps of smoke throughout "Prune and Spoon." Whether these traits actually exist — whether your idol is actually worthy of your affections — doesn't matter. What you feel is unconditional. Through Aug. 26 at Dot Gallery, 1517 Oak, 816-283-1213. (A.F.)

Welcome to New Orleans Argentina-born artist Diego Larguia's paintings represent what Late Show gallery owner Tom Deatherage calls a before-and-after documentation of the area most ravaged by hurricane Katrina: the lower 9th Ward. Larguia graduated from the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts, so he knows the city — and the intimate "before" pictures convey this. All is serene, calm and quiet for "In the Shade," "Constance and Josephine Street" and "New Orleans Homes." It's as if Larguia stopped to paint while out on an afternoon stroll. More foreboding are the graves in "Frontal Tombs" and "Svelte Tomb." Larguia captures the hurricane's random destruction in "Backlit Row of Houses (Lower 9th Ward)," in which one home has been completely destroyed and refuse now collects on top of a parked car. The delicate blue sky in the background belies the violence beneath it. A lasting, iconic image is of the Superdome's roof, frayed and torn like a beaten tennis ball as speeding vehicles pass in the foreground, rushing away from the abused city. Through July 30 at the Late Show, 1600 Cherry, 816-474-1300. (R.T.B.)

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