Art Capsule Reviews

Exhibicion 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 super-macho.com 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.)

Luke Firle: Transcending Forward It’s only fitting that Luke Firle’s paintings would be shown at a gallery called the Cube. Firle works with shapes — bars and stripes and circles — but makes them warm and inviting by choosing a varied palette in colors that remind us of sorbet. Up close, the viewer can see Firle’s pencil lines and the obvious precision with which he paints. He’s not afraid of texture (it’s there in copious amounts, within various zones in each painting) or hesitant to remove layers of paint to show what’s underneath. He seems to paint with a love of paint, as though painting is playtime for him. One of the simplest and prettiest pieces in the show leaves a stretch of canvas almost bare but for splashes of gray spattered across it; in one section, a mint-green, branchlike shape sweeps across, providing a lovely diversion from the geometry and lines. Through Oct. 15 at the Cube at Beco, 1922 Baltimore, 816-582-8997. (R.B.)

In Missouri In Missouri‘s photographs range from details of art deco buildings to coyotes strung up in trees, so it’s a testament to Don McKenna’s artistic vision that the show manages to achieve a strong sense of cohesion. We gave a lot of thought to what ties this show together, and we finally realized that all of McKenna’s photographs are remains of things that people have created and then abandoned. Buildings once painstakingly detailed are now neglected, as evidenced by peeling paint; boarded-up white barns practically glow, reflecting a lovely evening sun; a playground sits surrounded by Army tanks; and, yes, animal carcasses have been left in positions that can be explained only by human cruelty. Incredibly, no people can be seen in these images that so forcefully suggest human behavior. The other thing that ties them together, of course, can be found in the show’s title: All of the images come from Missouri. Through Oct. 29 in the Back Room Gallery of the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore, 816-474-1919. (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.)

Larry Schwarm: Rites of Renewal Larry Schwarm obsessively photographs immense prairie fires. His horizons glow, and flames appear to leap off the prints. Either nature has a keen eye for composition and graciously sets up all kinds of beautiful shots, or Schwarm — an artist and not, say, a firefighter — knows instinctively how to position himself relative to a fast-moving fire so that he catches mind-blowing moments where everything’s lined up just so. All this, and he still makes it out safely with his rolls of film. Some of the photographs are blurry from the smoke and look unreal, like watercolors. Others, taken from a greater distance, look almost too real to believe — a tree glows a strange golden brownish orange from the light of an off-camera flame that also renders the grass a hazy shade of purple — because they’re the kinds of things that most of us expect not to see without being in extreme danger. To stand back in awe without having to be afraid is a privilege. Through Oct. 22 at the Sherry Leedy Gallery, 2004 Baltimore, 816-221-2626. (G.K.)

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&acircch√© 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 have a friend snap your picture. (Bring your own camera.) 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