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Art Capsule Reviews

Our critics recommend these shows.


Blue Gallery Without a theme to hold together the works on display here, the thing that unifies this show is the taste of gallery owners Kelly and David Kuhn. We gravitate toward the work by Joe Ramiro Garcia and Rich Bowman. Ramiro Garcia's painting "Helpless" might have spoken more loudly to us than usual because of the fast-approaching tax season. In it, a painted page from a ledger book details one man's finances and is blotted out here and there by a beautiful, errant flower; subtly squeezed into the lower right-hand corner, in the same writing used to log expenses, is a note-to-self: Ask for help. Meanwhile, Bowman's orangey paintings somehow manage to convey that they are landscapes and cityscapes at sundown, in spite of the fact that they involve very few markings. They are so minimal that they verge on abstraction. Works by several other artists represented by the Blue Gallery are also on display at 9 W. 19th St., 816-527-0823. (G.K.)

From Bingham to Benton, Midwest as Muse Those of us who grew up around here have seen paintings by Thomas Hart Benton and company from such an early age, and on such abysmally boring field trips, that the artists' work constitutes -- for us -- the visual equivalent of white noise. Incredibly, this exhibit could change that. George Caleb Bingham's "The Jolly Flatboatmen" alone would be worth the visit. Created in 1847, the painting enraged New York art appreciators for two reasons. First, the boatmen on the river playing fiddles, drinking and dancing were viewed as lowly commoners unworthy of a portrait. Second, the tranquil float scene did not cater to New Yorkers' fantasies of life in the wild, wild West. It's kind of like how, when you head to the coasts, people feel gypped that the only Kansan they know can't milk a cow. On display through July 31 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak, 816-751-1278. (G.K.)

Meredith Burton: New Drawings Meredith Burton's adventures in magic-marker art continue, having debuted at the Telephone Booth last summer. Now her fruit-scented scenes (we don't know if she uses scented magic markers, but we like to pretend) are more elaborate and take greater advantage of the medium. Cityscapes are adorned with tattoolike wreath designs that yank the viewer's attention away from the scene itself. Looking at a drawing of a power line intersecting with a marquee or billboard, the viewer's eye will settle on that point of intersection, so Burton plops her decorative stylings on the middle of the power line itself, just where it begins to recede into the background. It seems she has started playing a lighthearted game of visual tug-of-war with her audience. And really, once you've chosen markers as your medium, why not? Now showing in the Cup and Saucer restaurant (not the bar next door) at 412 Delaware, 816-474-7375. (G.K.)

Go to Italy! Cobi Newton doesn't really want you to go to Italy. Her stated goal is to create -- using colors and design -- the feeling we get from daydreams of running away to the old boot-shaped country. Which is funny, because at first glance, the streamlined sensibilities of her work did not create that feeling for us at all. That might be because when we think of Italy, we imagine rolling hills, classical music, everything cooked in olive oil, jaw-droppingly beautiful people running around barefoot in the gentle sun and ... we digress. The point is, Newton's work pushed our thinking in another direction, reminding us that Italy also contains cities like Milan -- bustling, high-fashion places full of glamour and couture and window displays. The enameled, slightly curving lines in unlikely yet enticing color combinations (not unlike the mouth-watering palette contained in a bowl of spumoni) jump from one canvas to another before branching this way and that. They're like maps of foreign cities, with the unfamiliar public transit routes and networks of streets that look -- before you have actually walked through them -- an awful lot like abstract art. Through April 30 at the Jan Weiner Gallery, 4800 Liberty, by appointment only. Call 816-931-8755. (G.K.)

Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler: Editing the Dark Not a lot transpires in these three video installations by Kemper visiting artists Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler, but it's what doesn't happen that makes them so unsettling. In Eight, a little girl in a pink party frock surveys the remains of an outdoor gathering in the rain. Plates of half-eaten food turn soggy, and she cuts herself a slice of cake. Inside, she's dry, clad in the same dress and looking out a window. The video plays in a loop, so the viewer is left to wonder if she's crying about a ruined party or about something else. Single Wide raises another set of unanswered questions. A woman destroys a trailer by driving into it with her truck. As the camera pans through the trailer's rooms, the sounds -- a ringing phone, a ticking clock, the drip-drop of a leaky faucet, a nearby train -- have a haunting quality that's as eerie as Hubbard and Birchler's stories. Through May 15 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick Blvd., 816-753-5784. (R.B.)

Donald Lipski and Mitch Kern A recent issue of Budget Living showed readers how to apply intricate, origamilike folding techniques to the pages of vintage books to create cheap art. Donald Lipski could probably teach those crafty types a thing or two. Lipski's book assemblages salute the written word yet render the books he uses mostly unreadable. Diverse tomes, from old encyclopedias to recent fiction hardcovers, are arranged into precise, orderly wreaths and stacks. In some works, everyday objects -- spoons, nickels, lemons -- add to the feeling that, in Lipski's hands, anything's fair game. Mitch Kern, meanwhile, shows portrait photographs of the people he met while he was an artist in residence at a cultural center in Hungary. Through April 30 at the Byron C. Cohen Gallery for Contemporary Art, 2020 Baltimore, 816-421-5665. (R.B.)

A Menagerie Listen, we love baby rhinos and white tigers as much as the next person. But knowing that they've been taken out of their natural habitats so kids with ice-cream-sticky fingers and bored baby-sitters can ogle them has always kind of bothered us; their freedom has been sacrificed for passing entertainment. Barry Anderson's latest sound and video exhibition, A Menagerie, captures the confinement of a caged animal, showing a looped, close-up image of a lemur's eye. But it also conveys a more erratic, agitated sense of helplessness than we typically see at the zoo, forging a human connection with anyone who's ever felt the violent urge to jump out of his or her skin rather than remain in place. In Anderson's works, however, that option doesn't exist. As the installations loop over and again, there's no relief from the video of an infinite hallway or the beats emanating from black tentacles crawling down the corner of the gallery. Through April 23 at Beth Allison Gallery, 2016 Baltimore, 816-474-5637. (A.F.)

Matthias Soda Potter: Villa De Mutante The first time we saw Matthias Soda Potter's paintings, we felt as if we'd stumbled across pages torn from some weird, illuminated book. Reminiscent of biblical illustrations, infused with a little Hieronymus Bosch and Henry Darger, Potter's work tells the story of a mythical European town where genetic mutations are the norm. Certain motifs repeat throughout the show, such as the stylized rays of the sun and the Villa De Mutante "logo" that features a king with three eyes. The characters Potter paints may not be up for sainthood in any religion, but they definitely deserve a place in the church of oddities. There's Olgapus, a saucy pinup with tentacled arms, and Colonel Corke, a military officer with the head of a rooster. Even the Baron Von Shitbagh's silly moniker draws us into Potter's world, a place where we wouldn't want to live, but one we'd sure like to visit. Through May 6 at the open studio of Troy Swangstu and Alex Whitney, 516 East 18th St., 816-472-3559. (R.B.)

Jacob Sharp: Wallpaper About a year ago, Blue Ribbon promised us the world. The world! The bright-eyed young artists' collective had big plans to do all kinds of ambitious things, such as hold bike rodeos and carnivals, all for the sake of art (and getting laid). Well, these kids have participated in a lot of art events around town, but so far, no rodeo. No carnival. Luckily, one of the co-founders, Jacob Sharp, has made good on his promise to make wallpaper. Now on display in the north-facing window of the Dolphin Gallery, Sharp's wallpaper samples just plain rule. The day of the fleur-de-lis has come and gone. Say hello to bendy girls with ghetto blasters, printed in pink on a brown background. We'd like to point out that, just as the dastardly Urban Outfitters came out with its very, very, very tempting chic wallpaper, Sharp has provided us with a locally made alternative. And as for wallpaper as art and art as wallpaper ... well, now, that really cuts out the middle man, doesn't it? Sharp's wallpaper is viewable from the street at 1901 Baltimore. Call 816-842-5877. (G.K.)

WTF? Anyone can kiss a canvas over and over and over again, leaving pink lipstick imprints all over it. We'll give you that. But how many people actually would? And how many might do so knowing that it would end up looking like a vaguely flowery abstract tableau? Two such pink canvasses are on display in the brightly colored group show WTF?, which showcases art that's ridiculously refreshing as well as refreshingly ridiculous. It marks the curatorial debut of Lisa Kettlewell, who spent the opening reception walking around, smiling, shaking hands, introducing herself, thanking people for coming ... her face completely smudged in dirt. Not taking herself too seriously appears to have freed up some of the energy curators usually devote to being supersmooth, allowing it to flow instead to the dual responsibilities of displaying good art and enjoying it. Through April 30 at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore, 816-474-1919. (G.K.)

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