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Bountiful Nora Othic's archetypal figures and her dynamic, posed compositions evoke regionalists such as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood but also such mid-20th-century muralists as Anton Refregier and Milton Bellin. In "Mean Bull," two laughing ranch hands dive over a fence, chased by an enraged bull. The masterly "Diner" is an energetically composed image of two waitresses tending a roomful of truckers. This group exhibit also includes Joe Gregory's archetypal landscapes — built up from simple geometrics and planes, he illuminates his intent with a realist's color palette, bathing his forms with light and deep shadows. Paula Hauser Leffel's impressionistic and seemingly optimistic still-life paintings are as much about brush strokes and texture as they are about her subjects. "Table With Apples & Pears" becomes somehow epic, larger than its subject. Keith Kavanaugh's landscapes are rendered in a palpably wintry palette, suggesting more detail than that which is present on the canvas; his pieces are haunting and mysterious. Through Dec. 2 at the Late Show Gallery, 1600 Cherry. (Chris Packham)

Looking West This exhibition could have been an eloquent disquisition on the uneven American cultural fascination with "the West" — its history and politics, ideas of American expansionism, racism, colonialism and American Indian rights. Instead, work in the exhibition seems to have been chosen simply because it in some way visually refers to cowboys, Indians and some western landscapes. Precious few of the artists here evoke the important issues or simply make interesting work. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith's prints combine iconic images of mythical animals and humans, drawn with a deliberately naïve hand to form a pastiche of personal and political commentary on issues facing American Indians as well as the environment. Fort Guerin borrows from popular culture and cartooning. Appropriating images from TV and movies, Gordon McConnell suggests a mythic ideology that popular culture embraced — and often still does — about Manifest Destiny. Photographers Larry Schwarm and Wes Lyle document the beauty of the Kansas prairies and the lives of those who populate the Midwest, respectively. Through Feb. 1 at the Belger Arts Center, 2100 Walnut, 816-474-3250. (Dana Self)

Recent Paintings by Wilbur Niewald With trees as unified objects rather than painterly accretions of leaf-rendering brush strokes, Wilbur Niewald's "Pine Trees in Loose Park" series offers a strangely vivid dimensionality. For much of this exhibit, though, Niewald applies his masterful technique to formal pursuits of still-life, figure painting and some truly breathtaking (and quite familiar) cityscapes. "Kansas City, View of the River" is a detailed panorama looking across the West Bottoms (from the heights of Quality Hill, maybe?), attending closely to the serpentine tendrils of highways and roads. "Kansas City, View from Penn Valley Park" is a similar portrait of the familiar Kansas City skyline. Niewald is preoccupied not just with the individual buildings but also with the rise and fall of the topology beneath their foundations. To area viewers, these would be as immediately recognizable as a portrait of a family member. Through Nov. 17 at the Dolphin Gallery, 1901 Baltimore. (Chris Packham)

Russian Propaganda and Film Posters The fine letterpress printing produced by Hammerpress Studios is a familiar sight in Kansas City. The house style is apparent on band posters, ads and logos around town. It's a strangely likely venue for this exhibit of Russian propaganda and film posters from the collection of Grant Lundberg. Spanning the 20th century from the constructivist era of the Stenberg brothers — typified by stark lines, bold text styles and a graphic aesthetic derived from industry and technology — to the Socialist Realism movement that would come to dominate the art of the Soviet Union, the pieces here demonstrate the strong cultural bias against modern-era modes of abstraction and cubism. The party demanded art that could be appreciated by the proletariat, so realism abounds. The result, to a modern American audience, is a readability that transcends language, history and shifting geopolitical tectonics. The appeal in this exhibit, besides the historical, lies in the tension between the easily read imagery and the cultural foreignness of the Cyrillic copy and the Communist underpinnings. Through Nov. 30 at Hammerpress, 110 Southwest Blvd. (Chris Packham)

Sensual Artifacts Much of the fired pottery in this exhibit is displayed workshop-style, on faux makeshift work tables built from raw planks, emphasizing the artists' relationships with their craft. Nathan Brunson's pottery comments on the interplay of utilitarianism and aesthetics; his salt-fired stoneware tea canisters suggest a practical purpose for which they are unlikely to be used. In "Ritual Hydration," eight stoneware water cups, a stone dipper, and a matching stoneware flagon filled with water have sharply defined lines and a deliberateness of form that contrasts somewhat with the work of Tyra Forker, whose enigmatic "Self Portrait" series of top-heavy reduction-fired stoneware vases is smoother and more organic. If the sensuality of Brunson's work comes from the implied tactility of use, that in Forker's pieces comes from organic, curvilinear designs. Through Nov. 30 at the KCAI Crossroads Gallery, 1908 Main. (Chris Packham)

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