Art Capsule Reviews

Baseball Project We don’t know a whole lot about baseball. Nonetheless, we like Mike Hill’s drawings, which document and track three seasons of Red Sox players’ performances. For each season, the artist uses a different system for logging various outcomes, and each is painstakingly etched out over the course of several months’ worth of ballgames. Walking into the gallery filled with line graphs, bar graphs and other mysterious notation devices, we felt right at home for reasons having nothing to do with baseball. Instead, we thought, This is what obsessiveness looks like. It’s perfect, and it’s something we’d recognize anywhere. Through Nov. 5 at the Paragraph Gallery, 23 E. 12th St., 816-221-5115. (G.K.)

Exhibición de la arte de vida y muerte The Day of the Dead Festival is over. Gone is your chance to buy skull-shaped lollipops, refrigerator magnets and pens. No more can you enjoy funnel cake while watching lithe flamenco dancers stomp gracefully in high heels. But the art and ofrendas (or altars) at Mattie Rhodes Gallery are still on display, and art workshops continue for the duration of the exhibit. The most-publicized work is by famous Mexican artist Jorge R. Gutierrez, whose colorful, iconic posters of El Macho (or Macho Man) seem to have predicted the current trendiness of skull imagery. (His Web site has the best URL ever; at you can also see the artist’s “manimation.”) Other pieces of wall art worth the visit are Xerox-transfer skull prints on big, heavy stone tablets and layered, comic-book style Day of the Dead stories. But a window installation is our favorite part. Dirt covers the window sill, and a grave awaits an unglazed clay coffin carried by a procession of unglazed clay skeletons. Through Nov. 19 at Mattie Rhodes Gallery, 919 W. 17th St., 816-221-2349. (G.K.)

Married to Adventure Before loaded terms such as “multiculturalism” came along to institutionalize a basic desire to understand other people, Osa Johnson and her husband, Martin, just got in a plane and lived the idea, completely unself-consciously. The two Kansans traveled to parts of the world that scared the bejesus out of most Americans in the early part of the 20th century. Their still and moving footage of indigenous civilizations was later used in popular silent films — and in at least one instance, they returned to those locales to screen a film for the people who had appeared in it. The exhibit at the Kansas City Museum shows photographs and film reels as well as special editions of Osa Johnson’s best-selling autobiography, I Married Adventure, printed with zebra-striped covers. Especially awe-inspiring is the photo, shot from a plane, of stampeding giraffes. Osa Johnson = total badass. Through Jan. 8 at the Kansas City Museum, 3218 Gladstone Blvd., 816-460-2020. (G.K.)

Newrotic: Experiments in Eroticism With new gallery director Luis Garcia in place, the Vault has gathered paintings of women resembling Tank Girl, airbrushed hip-hop portraits and girls who look straight out of manga. But one person’s Playboy centerfold is another’s unsexy nightmare. Accordingly, the works in this group show are a bit of a sensual smorgasbord — what one viewer finds titillating, another might find mundane. Adrian Halpern’s delicate, disjointed figures (a screaming girl wields a sword in one hand; her other arm is a fish, her legs a mass of snakes) are set next to a series of photographs called “Mine Is Bigger Than Yours” in which Beanie Babies are placed in provocative positions with … mushrooms. The piece that provoked the most laughter on opening night involves Ronald McDonald proclaiming “I’m loving it” as a woman, naked but for thigh-high stockings and a corset around her midsection, goes down on his Big Mac. We’ll skip the joke about supersizing it. Through Nov. 24 at the Vault Gallery at Leedy-Voulkos, 2012 Baltimore, 816-405-3562. (R.B.)

Parts In each of the 11 large-scale photographs that make up Parts, the latest exhibit to open at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, artist Nikki S. Lee adopts a distinct persona — and a boyfriend to complement it. Staged in snapshot form, the glossy images feature Lee interacting with tattooed muscle men and pale drug addicts, on playgrounds and in bars; however, each of the guys has been cut out of the picture, suggesting truncated relationships. (After viewing 11 presumably failed attempts at relationships, one starts to feel a little discouraged.) Her diverse identities are certainly driven by stereotypes, but we empathize with the desire to be someone else every so often. In “Part 18,” she’s in morning-after mode, drinking coffee on a fire escape, bedheaded and wearing boxers; “Part 13” has her barefoot and laughing on a bus. What’s most striking is that it’s not her face — where one usually looks for indications of mood or disposition — that gives her away; it’s her body language. There does seem to be a direct correlation between the amount of makeup Lee wears and her level of misery, though. We’d better toss our eyeliner. Through Dec. 11 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick, 816-753-5784. (A.F.)

The Secret Drawer Society We can’t think of a more fitting place for Jen Fridy’s enchanting but macabre work than the Mercy Seat — a piercing and tattoo parlor with a pressed-tin ceiling and walls, vintage light fixtures and outside lettering that reminds us of vaudeville posters — or a more fitting month than October for her show, which fans of Tim Burton, Dame Darcy, the Addams Family and Edward Gorey will probably admire. Fridy is inspired by Victoriana and spooky stories, and The Secret Drawer Society invites viewers to make up eerie tales of their own for pieces such as “It’s a Start,” in which a cherubic young woman in a sheer nightie holds a blindfolded man by a necktie on a bed and looks at him beguilingly. Or “When the Body Is Willing, the Spirit Escapes the Soul,” which finds a woman decked out in burlesque attire, holding a fan (perhaps a prop for her act) on a rich, red background while a shimmering spirit comes out of her mouth. Scary and pretty intersect here — and it works. Through Oct. 31 at the Mercy Seat, 210 E. 16th St., 816-421-4833. (R.B.)

The Sesquicentennial Whitmaniacs Congress Ryan Kelly gets a little obsessive sometimes. After hearing that the poet Walt Whitman had made a list of the 21 famous people he’d met, Kelly decided to bring them back to life as oversized, papier-m&acircché heads. The heads hang from the ceiling on hooks, and Kelly encourages viewers to try them on and wander around for a bit as, say, Edgar Allan Poe or Andrew Jackson. Whitman himself doesn’t hang from the ceiling, but he turns on a barbecue spit, surveying his noteworthy friends. Kelly, a graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute’s ceramics department, hasn’t abandoned his regular medium; there’s a clay portrait of Whitman hanging on one wall and a delicately painted bowl on a table near a Whitman portrait station. Yes, portrait station: Sit down, fasten a beard to your face with ear hooks, put on a hat and a woolly cardigan and get a Polaroid snapped. There’s a copy of the Whitman photograph you’ll be aping, but First Friday gallerygoers found it more fun to pose as Whitman doing things he probably wouldn’t want caught on film. Through Jan. 6, 2006, at the Belger Arts Center, 2100 Walnut, 816-474-3250. (R.B.)

Simulacrum: Portraiture in the New Millennium The first thing technically on display right now at the Society for Contemporary Photography is the gallery itself; its new location looks better than ever. The actual exhibit, however, explores how portraiture has adapted to a time when the goal of capturing an objective reality has given way to a desire to change reality (or create a false or enhanced reality). Most exciting are Zoe Sheehan Sladana’s photographic-needlepoint portraits. The dotted effect created by needlepoint looks like a pixilated, over-enlarged digital photograph. Get up close to these needlepoint images, and you will see how very few marks it actually takes to create a photorealistic likeness of a human face, however blurry. Other highlights include Peter Sarkisian’s projection of a bathing woman into a bowl on a pedestal. The bowl appears to contain milk, and the naked woman appears to be wading in that milk, but on closer inspection, the entire image is projected onto a flat, two-dimensional screen. Another artist shows what the human face would look like if it were perfectly symmetrical, as is supposedly ideal. By mirroring one side of the face, the artist shows that a perfect face is actually a very scary face. Through Dec. 17 at the Society for Contemporary Photography, 520 Avenida Cesar E. Chavez, 816-471-2115. (G.K.)

The Snug Sensation Martin Morehouse’s sculptures — nine white, upholstered forms of various shapes and sizes, simultaneously suspended from the ceiling and stuck to the floor — look like punching bags. But aggression is the last thing they’re intended to incite; in fact, Morehouse wants you to hug them. Using a tactile transducer (a variation on a speaker that vibrates solids instead of air), he makes his figures pulse like muscle contractions, heartbeats, refrigerators and idle motors. The objective is to energize the senses of sight, sound and touch in a nonthreatening way. The gallery was deserted when we stopped in on a Saturday afternoon, and we felt damned silly embracing these sculptures while alone. But we found evidence of a more populated opening: the comment sheet. And we were fascinated by how the remarks differed by what appeared to be the writers’ genders. Whereas large, loopy letters — often accented with exclamation points — declared the show “very intimate” and confided “I enjoyed hugging your art,” a minimalist, masculine scrawl announced: “I kinda think this is bullshit.” Through Nov. 26 in the Front Room Gallery of the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore, 816-474-1919. (A.F.)

Categories: A&E