Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Gallery-going greets the springtime

Fine Arts

Photocollage (gelatin silver print) from Edge of Alchemy by Stacey Steers (2017). Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery
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Dust off that Stravinsky recording and dance a pagan rite to spring, because contemporary art is blooming at local galleries. Here's a sampling.

Catharine Clark Gallery Edge of Alchemy is the final chapter in Stacey Steers' trilogy of short psychological films that delve into women's interior worlds and embedded emotional memories that never let go. In her latest production, she reimagines early silent cinema, casting the era's leading ladies, Mary Pickford and Janet Gaynor, in a "phantasmagoric" tale of monstrous, crimes-against-nature creation that takes a cue from the pages of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Steers' old-fashioned, labor-intensive process involves assembling and animating over 6,000 antiqued, hand-colored photo collages, techniques reminiscent of George Melies and Canadian wild man Guy Maddin. Incorporating historic etchings and photos, she constructs surreal landscapes where fields are carpeted by bees and garish flowers, a human-sized teaspoon leans against a porch railing, and scientific laboratories of suspicious origin conduct dubious experiments with gauzed-wrapped figures and beakers of bubbling red liquid. The film, accompanied by an original score from Brothers Quay collaborator Lech Jankowski, is complemented by a suite of photographic stills, collages and a contraption dubbed "Oculus." Through April 15;

Vanessa Marsh, Horizon 3 (2016), edition of 3, Chromogenic photogram. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Dolby Chadwick Gallery

Dolby Chadwick Gallery In the most recent iteration of her Falling series, Vanessa Marsh embraces the cosmos and geologic time in large-scale nocturnal landscapes that communicate the wonder of the universe. Nights of 1,000 stars are interrupted only by silhouettes of distant peaks and valleys (some pulled from Ansel Adams' photographs), blackened trees, and splashes of violet nebulae in the vastness of space or silvery halos sprinkled across the Milky Way. Before you strap on your backpack and head to Death Valley, be advised: these vistas aren't real. They're total fabrications, "relatable false realties," as Marsh calls them, which conjure misty mountain starlit canyons ("Cave 3") and backdrops for mystical stone edifices ("Arches 2") as magical as anything conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien. Marsh's entrancing collages combine cut paper, drawings, Mylar painted with transparent inks, and darkroom techniques that converge in photograms, made without the benefit of a camera. Specks of black gesso, for instance, block light hitting the photographic paper, producing the illusion of starscapes in the great beyond. Go and be amazed. April 6-29;

Amy Cutler, Peddling in the Poppies (2016), gouache on paper. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Jenkins Johnson Gallery

Jenkins Johnson Gallery If the shows mounted here have been inclusive, they've also been especially attuned (and allotted generous space) to works by women artists, who are often constrained or confronted by gender/identity politics, social upheaval, sexism and backlash. Gathering together an eclectic mix of 15 powerhouse female talents who use drawing as their primary medium or as a component of multimedia projects, Dialogues in Drawing is an exhibition of unexpected abundance, with 144 pieces such as Alison Saar's "Coup Study" (2006), in which a nude woman sits on a chair as if poised to make a run for it. Gripping a fearsome pair of scissors on her lap, her long braided hair is entwined around a pile of suitcases struggling to break free. Two bohemian vendors, each with trays of confections balanced on her shoulders, face off in Amy Cutler's "Peddling in the Poppies" (2016). In one of Damali Abrams' tangy collages, pop culture icon Rihanna, swathed in gold lame and peacock feathers, stands next to a sign throwing it all down: "You think I'm not a goddess," it asserts. "Try me." Just saying. Through May 13;

Fraenkel Gallery Ralph Eugene Meatyard: American Mystic. Meatyard, an artist partial to imagery of masked children acting out dramas in overgrown rural settings and abandoned houses, gets welcome exposure in this show of both lesser- and better-known works, along with his notebooks and annotated volumes from his library. Rare self-portraits, a photograph featuring the artist's wife and a companion in grotesque masks from "The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater," and a gang of kids hanging out on the front steps in masks too big for their bodies are among the selections on display. A Kentucky optician by trade, Meatyard picked up a square, medium-format camera, and in his spare time, began shooting close to home. What began as a hobby developed into a series of provocative photographic investigations whose orchestrated compositions, props and costumed subjects were every bit as staged as a theatrical performance. Though acknowledged as an important artist within an informed coterie of artists, philosophers, mystics and writers such as Wendell Berry and Thomas Merton, Meatyard labored in obscurity for the majority of his brief career, from the mid-1950s through the early 70s, photographing for an exacting audience of one: himself, and creating a potent, off-center and unsettling body of work pervaded by a sense of dislocation. When it comes to interpreting and deciphering his enigmatic pictures, he leaves viewers on their own, somewhere between the Twilight Zone and the backwoods. Through May 6;

state Fantasy Island. Although some devotees of the Aaron Spelling television phenom are still trying to live down the fact they watched the program religiously during its inexplicable seven-year run (1977-84), San Francisco artist Kelly Inouye is not about to let anyone forget. Using a palette of hand-mixed paints in installations and smaller works, she resurrects the old chestnut's plotlines, characters and motifs with a 21st-century twist, and riffs on its kitschy prescriptions for living. Remember those weekly on-the-nose, cautionary tales of ego, excess and desire? How about Mr. Roarke, the suave overseer of the escapist ocean destination not found on any known map, and his diminutive sidekick, Tattoo? They're reunited in a watercolor portrait whose smudged outlines reinforce the mystique of the dynamic duo. Meanwhile, the oversized "This Place Is Too Much" partially recreates a set with a rattan peacock chair and tropical foliage, where one can relive the show's heyday and absorb a remix of its earworm soundtrack.April 8-May 20;


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