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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.)

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.)

Deborah Oden: What Reason My Heart and Zia: Off the Rim Deborah Oden's paintings and Zia's pottery complement each other at the Sherry Leedy Gallery of Contemporary Art. Both are nonrepresentational, with an ethereal quality that's appropriate for this time of year — the Kansas City heat in August can make us feel as if we're living in another world. Oden prints on Kozo-shi paper, sometimes letting the paper hang down from a thin board and sometimes gluing her prints on wood panels. "Wilder Shores" seems to float on the wall, moving like chiffon when people, opening the door and moving in the gallery, create a little breeze; the print's black and blue lines look like oversized rickrack layered to create a stormy feeling. Zia's pottery is like ribbon candy, the black and white porcelain flowing delicately and sometimes forming vessels. But the ones we like best are just forms placed together on a shelf. Through August 19 at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, 2004 Baltimore, 816-221-2626. (A.E.F.)

Re: Members Forgive us for just now covering this excellent show that commemorates, or "remembers," the 30-year anniversary of the Kansas City Artists Coalition. Coalition founding members Philomene Bennett and Lou Marak juried the 58 pieces by 59 artists whose works, in nearly every media imaginable, spread across the two gallery rooms. The entire show is great, but we were drawn to Terry Bean's "Your Own Title, First Name, State Born" oil painting of a nude man, woman and child. He stands before an American flag with his baby resting on his shoulders; his wife sits on the Confederate flag with her hands in her lap (yep, a house divided). Just as intimate is the wonderful "Shannon's Bed of Roses" by Ann Piper, where the titular Shannon appears to peer off the canvas at the viewer from her "bed of roses" — a bare mattress. Politically salient is Rachel Rose's "American Statement," where seed beads form a slightly torn American flag, decorated with a quote criticizing the current administration's paranoid practices. Catch it before August 18 at the Kansas City Artists Coalition, 201 Wyandotte, 816-412-5222. (R.T.B.)

Salvation Six local artists calling themselves the Broken Brick Group interpret the myriad meanings of "salvation" in this group show that's sometimes interesting, sometimes not. We're intrigued by Charles Ray's work because he uses rust as media; in "Genesis," a rust/copper oxide on canvas details a half-circle of roots growing to form hands offering a rose to the moon, clouds and heavens. In "An Ounce of Damnation Is Worth a Pound of Salvation," Ray uses a similar media to create a unique female form: an angel with an ugly skeleton skull where a placid face should be. Rev. Jim Dayton's collected sermons handwritten on wrinkled paper convey a certain folksy wisdom and humor but lack artistry (though the Rev. earns points for calling Mel Gibson a "lunatic neo-Nazi" in a February 2006 sermon). And Tate Owens' set of six glass milk bottles filled with holy water for "Self Baptism (Glass and Holy Water)" perfectly captures the bewildering aspects of this show. Through August 31 at the Hilliard Gallery, 404 E. 18th St., 816-561-2956. (R.T.B.)

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