Our critics recommend these shows. 

America Starts Here Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler, both graduates of the Kansas City Art Institute, collaborated for 10 years on the work exhibited here, until Ericson's death in 1995 at age 39. Their widely recognized work is conceptual — it's about ideas rather than experiences. Through mixed-media sculptures and installations, they explore the ironies of American life. "Squeaky Clean" is a 19th-century wooden chest halved between hundreds of bars of soap and a pile of dirt. The painting "Oldgloryredbleachedwhitenationalflagblue" combines the red, white and blue of the American flag into one amalgamated pinkish goop. Through Sept. 29 at the H&R Block Artspace, 16 E. 43rd St., 816-802-3426. (Santiago Ramos)

Patrick Clancy: Breeding Ground Patrick Clancy is a photographer but also a painter: A large photograph of water or sand serves as a canvas, which he manipulates with props and various photographic techniques to create a surreal vision. "Atoms & Eve" and "Atoms and Eve Dispelled" use metallic lettering to spell out the titles on wavy yellow sand. A series of vertical photographs twists a standing image and creates a dizzying circular effect — "Exchange of Flows," a picture of the sea, is the most impressive of these. Clancy's weaker "weathering" photographs are long on technique but short on substance, and they bear such pretentious titles as "A Shadowy Photographer Stretches Across the Windy Archaeological Site where a Sand Storm Is Brewing a Vortex of ..." (it's actually longer than that, but we're out of room). Through July 22 at the Epsten Gallery at Village Shalom, 5500 W. 123rd St. in Overland Park, 913-266-8413. (Santiago Ramos)

Justin Gainan: You Are Sleeping, You Do Not Want to Believe. You Are Sleeping Most of these drawings by Justin Gainan (including the eponymous five-piece set of 26-inch-by-28 inch black squares) are solid blocks of black ink on white paper, painstakingly built up over two and a half weeks. Others — "Behind a Hill," "Terrible Is What It Is" and two pieces titled "Dirty Drawing" — are random lines of graphite that dangle on the page like clumps of lint. The companion pieces "White Dots" and "Black Dots" record the impressions of a series of punches that the artist planted on pieces of paper. A video ("Fan Light") and two big photographs of searchlights beaming into the sky complete this show, which may flummox both the layman and the art lover. Through July 28 at the Dolphin Gallery, 1901 Baltimore, 816-842-5877. (Santiago Ramos)

Judith Mackey: The Palette of the Prairie Painter Judith Mackey works within the regionalist tradition. This collection of oil-on-canvas landscapes exhibits the oranges, reds, purples and greens of all that land we see when we drive west on I-70. Quintessentially Kansan, Mackey paints the standard dawns and dusks; the eponymous (and large) "Palette of the Prairie" doesn't uncover any new mysteries within our horizon. Slightly more interesting is "Chase City Wall Cloud," depicting the titular dark and ominous gray cloud. Her vision becomes dramatic and unique only in a few striking paintings — "Lavender Smoke, "Burning at Dark" and "Prairie Burn III" — that beautifully capture the charred landscape remaining after a prairie fire. Through Aug. 31 at the Rice Gallery, 7060 W. 135th St. in Overland Park, 913-685-8889. (Santiago Ramos)

Summer Group Show In his Native Commodity triptych, photographer Tom Jones captures surprisingly dramatic photos of roadside neon signs and attractions that deploy faux Native American imagery. "Native Commodity Soda Totem" is a large photo of an artless totem pole protruding from a rain-dampened cement slab, fronting a bank of soda machines. Keith Jacobshagen's "End of the Tornado Watch, Platte Valley" is a realist oil landscape that captures the transition from meteorological starkness to vivid sunlight over Nebraska's big-sky flatlands. From a distance, Mike Lyon's "Rick" is a near photo-real portrait of a young man; up close, the image resolves into a dense, controlled network of pen-and-ink scumble. The exhibit also features two pieces from Peter Feldstein's Oxford Project. The photographer took portraits of 670 residents of Oxford, Iowa, in 1984, then photographed many of the same subjects again 21 years later. With the help of writer Stephen G. Bloom, Feldstein combines his dual portraits with first-person biographical narratives. The result is truthful and deeply felt; his portrait of Pat Henkelman, a Christian divorcée, is the most moving piece of the exhibit. Through Aug. 18 at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, 2004 Baltimore, 816-221-2626. (Chris Packham)

Voilá! Sculpture by Judy Onofrio The circus-poster and sideshow iconography of Judy Onofrio's mixed-media sculpture evoke both a timeless era (sometime in the mid-19th century) and an indeterminate place (central Europe, maybe). Most of these pieces begin as impossibly smooth woodcarvings: stylized busts and torsos of circus performers; dancers; women who could be carnival psychics, whose elaborate headdresses are populated with carved, brightly painted birds. Onofrio elaborates on these foundations with tilework, glass collage and painted curlicues of decorative molding. Mostly, the childlike simplicity of the underlying figures keeps Onofrio's intricacies from overwhelming the pieces (or the viewer). Sometimes, though, the artist's ingenuousness can veer from whimsical into the realm of cuteness. She strikes a balance with "Act of Audacious Daring," a large-scale mixed-media work in which an acrobatic dancer strikes an impossible pose, held aloft by twin lions. Through Aug. 18 at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, 2004 Baltimore, 816-221-2626. (Chris Packham)

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