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Art Capsule Reviews

Our critics recommend these shows.

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Diane Arbus, Family Albums The mother who challenged compulsory prayer in public schools. The doctor who treated poverty and its side effects (hunger, parasites) as diseases needing cures. Diane Arbus assembled these and many other figures for Family Albums, a project the photographer left uncompleted before her death. We recognize some of the subjects for their blood relationships: Lee Harvey Oswald's mother smiles eerily throughout an afternoon photo shoot; her cat's-eye glasses look like they'd fit just about anyone better than they do her. Others, such as Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, fill symbolic family roles. Arbus took some of the pictures on assignment for Esquire, and others are from her personal portfolio. As in real family albums, the photos offer private glimpses of people at home who are still posing, self-conscious and aware of being observed. Arbus tunes in to the vulnerability people feel when asked to allow a journalist or photographer (and, by extension, the public) into their private worlds -- her subjects appear sometimes flawed but always human. Through Jan. 16 at the Spencer Museum of Art, 1301 Mississippi in Lawrence, 785-864-4710. (G.K.)

Cross Stitch, Craft Medium Redefined Embroidery and other crafty practices are still considered pretty girly, in spite of efforts to the contrary (and a few male names on the price list). That's OK. Just because some ladies now bond in locker rooms and others over superficially feminist TV shows such as Sex in the City does not mean that some can't go on enjoying the basic, dual pleasures of needle and thread. The work in this show displays both variety and ingenuity. Highlights include the deep-red, sacred-heart-inspired collage pieces by Lawrence artist Kendra Herring; the unfathomably precise, illustratorly works (it's hard to believe the perfect lines are stitched and not inked) by Maggy Rozycki Hiltner; Stacy Neff's layered paper cutouts with detailing provided not only by actual embroidery but also by the holes left behind when needles puncture paper; and Leigh Ann Lester's disturbing, anatomical portraits of lung cancer, stroke and heart attack. Through Jan. 8 at the Bank, 11th St. and Baltimore, 816-221-5115. (G.K.)

Local Hitters At the Zone Gallery, owner Stretch's sculpture is the highlight of the show. Smaller than his average work, "Sexton Sled" is a strong, soaring medley of glass and steel that perfectly evokes winter in this cold, sparse space. The sprawling warehouse contains just ten pieces -- large sculptures, paintings and mixed-media works -- and the show's strength is simplicity. Kansas City Art Institute professor Michael Wickerson shows a tall aluminum sculpture enhanced by the gallery's urban setting, but the most eye-catching piece is David Ford's "Self Service." With its bright colors and jungle theme, the large diptych is beautiful and exotic, if slightly out of place among the clean lines of the other sculptures. Through Jan. 2 at the Zone Gallery, 1830 Locust, 816-471-3618. (J.W.)

Ruben Torres Llorca and Nobuhito Nishigawara Imagine a naked woman with no arms and one leg. She sits up straight, her posture impeccable, her only leg bent in front of her. In real life, she would fall down. Something has to prop her up -- an arm, a leg, at the very least a shift of weight. But in his porcelain sculpture "Leigh," one of seven anatomically bizarre pieces on display at the Byron C. Cohen Gallery, Nobuhito Nishigawara makes it happen. The facial features and individual body parts in Nishigawara's sculptures appear stunningly realistic, but the bodies he creates with those features are so strange and fantastic that they verge on abstraction. Really, can a single boob with a hat growing out of it be considered figurative? Kudos to Nishigawara for making us ask that ridiculous question in print. Also on display are multimedia works by Ruben Torres Llorca, whose best pieces are those for which meaning is hardest to decipher. Combining simple images with simple text is risky business for anyone not wanting to seem juvenile. In a series called "After Dinner Conversation," the technique works swimmingly. In other pieces, however, it sinks more than it swims. Also, check out the back room, where detailed paintings by Laura Sharp Wilson are stored. One of her otherworldly designs looks like an undersea dining room, with anemone and coral for carpet and a chandelier made out of flowers overhead. It makes us long to go scuba diving. Through Dec. 31 at the Byron C. Cohen Gallery, 2020 Baltimore, 816-421-5665. (G.K.)

Tide of Chaos, Fervor Within: Chinese Painters of the 17th Century Respond to Dynastic Upheaval We sort of expected the Nelson's Tide of Chaos, Fervor Within: Chinese Painters of the 17th Century Respond to Dynastic Upheaval to be a little more riveting. Don't get us wrong -- the myriad ink on paper/silk/satin landscapes and figural drawings are lovely. But we were hoping for some fire, some grit, something that demonstrated that the era's artists were as pissed off about their political climate as we are now. In short, we were searching for kindred spirits. Instead we found a beautiful (if somewhat repetitive) collection of countrysides and villages by artistic heavyweights of the time, such as Dong Qichang and Gong Xian. Bright spots include Zha Shibiao's "The Peach Blossom Spring" (a cheerful rendering of a 17th-century Shangri-La), Gao Qipei's finger paintings and Zhu Da's ominous ink-on-silk mynah birds. Our favorite, however, was Jin Nong's "Blossoming Plum" -- that is, until we read on the accompanying placard that the bland, unassertive tenor of the painting would have appealed to the fashion-conscious mercantile rich and that plum symbolized the refined, cool, passionless temperament valued by the literary elite. Well, then. We found our kindred spirits after all. Through July 31 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak, 816-751-1278. (A.F.)

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