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Peep Show

The galleries on Main Street give us antique babies, telephone poles and military women.


For decades Wolf Kahn has represented the rural American landscape as a dynamic dialogue between simple geometries, line and unexpected color. His unique use of geometric minimalism, layered with a baroque handling of surface rendered in paint or pastel is included in the collections of most major American museums. Now in his 80s, Kahn has yet to exhaust the possibility of visual surprise with his vibrant landscapes, as demonstrated in Reynolds Gallery's current show of his recent work. In Kahn's hands, foreground, horizon and sky are each made into horizontal swathes of different, often shocking tones. The edges of these horizontals are softened by verticals (like groups of trees) that stitch the tones together. One might accuse Kahn of leaning on a formula to create his images, which verge on abstraction. But in most, if not all, of his images, the landscape seems freshly captured at a particular, fleeting moment, observed as if for the first time. Through Nov. 15. 1514 W. Main St. 355-6553. — Paulette Roberts-Pullen

Red Door Gallery's strange “Buckets of Water,” a Faulkner-flavored depiction of nature and rural America, features disturbing photographs by Heather Gray, paintings and photographs by Jodi Hays, sculpture and painting by Lynn Gufeld and sculpture by Susann Whittier. Collectively representing relationships between the individual and environment with a gothic sensibility and a dose of humor, “Buckets of Water” becomes a haunted house. Through Oct. 31 1607 W. Main St. 358-0211. — PR-P

New abstract paintings at Main Art Gallery by Tommy White, who recently left Virginia Commonwealth University's School of the Arts to live and work elsewhere, combine loose and gestural drawing on hard-edged fields of flat color, butted together like patchwork. Aptly titled “Dialogue and Optimism,” White's paint continually changes, as if playing a call-and-response game. Neon colors glow next to muddy ones. Painted sections flirt with sections that seem to be drawn. White's version of a formal debate makes for a long and satisfying conversation. Through Oct. 31. 1537 W. Main St. 355-6151. — PR-P

At Artemis Gallery, amidst the recently reorganized displays of crafts and jewelry, Pete Tansill's little child monsters seem to struggle for position on the shelves. Tansill is a voracious collector of the old, the antique and the broken, as well as anything with an aged baby doll head. He assembles his strange constructs from these tired and shabby parts so that a bit of Americana peeks through each, whether it's a baby in armor, whose body is some heavy tin contraption, or a baby riding a mounted fish or a baby piloting a tank made of an antique fire extinguisher. The constructs manage to skirt the realm of kitsch and silliness while maintaining a kind of antiquity, helped by the cracks and scars on the round faces or metal bodies. Tansill is building myths out of the things we get rid of, and his success is that he makes the alien of the familiar, the ageless of the old. Through Oct. 28. 1601 W. Main St. 254-1755.
— Brandon Reynolds

“Surface” at Page Bond Gallery features paintings by Cindy Neuschwander, Robin Braun and Mina Oka Hanig, all of whom exploit their medium to further a sensuous viewing experience. Neuschwander's restrained, gestural drawings, a paint and wax mixture that looks like butter cream icing, dominate the show, not only in number but by their rich mixture of emotive range and rational compositional strategies. One hundred of the artist's small drawings and paintings on paper, installed in a grid, demonstrate the artist's playful color sense, while larger paintings on boxes 3 to 5 inches deep stick to a limited palette of muted tones. Her paintings on the boxes are both pictorial and sculptural, suggestive of containers sealed by the waxy medium. Neuschwander's paintings are contrasted with Hanig's grids of saturated color built with impasto acrylic, and even more with Braun's hypnotic, hyper-realist seascapes finished with a smooth, glossy surface.  Through Nov. 1. 1625 W. Main St. 359-3633. — PR-P

At Glave Kocen Gallery, Heidi Fowler's hauntingly beautiful and expertly crafted paintings of views she's seen from her car window — power and telephone lines, the tops of radio towers, smoke stacks and bridge abutments — bear so much power that they reach through the gallery's storefront to the opposite side of Main Street. In the dry world of infrastructure, Fowler has located a spectacular visual dance of line and form where we passengers set our gaze and daydream. Utility lines in these images cut across gray-blue skies and subdivide the spans into Mondrian-like geometrics. Fowler's form of realism convincingly captures the scenery without favoring a romantic or sentimental attachment to the subject matter. Unfortunately the artist isn't willing to leave it at that. Close inspection reveals layers of newsprint, postage marks and text, written into the paint — gestures that only serve to dumb down these otherwise elegant paintings. Through Nov. 7. 1620 W. Main St. 358-1990. — PR-P

At the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, “When Janey Comes Marching Home: Portraits of Women in the Military” combines the portraits and words of some 40 female combat veterans. The show is the result of two years of work by Laura Browder, an author, documentarian and VCU English professor, and Sascha Pflaeging, a photographer whose imagery is typically of underfed women languishing in fashionable clothing. “Janey” is a departure for Pflaeging, but one well-done. The photos are beautifully edited and taken, and display the women as torn but somehow strong, and focused. The tension lies in the stories by Browder, who edited transcripts of 10,000 words down to 500. These women are balancing typical female roles: mothers and daughters, wives and caretakers, but most are more than that; they are civilians and soldiers, and as with any group of veterans, this is the hardest struggle of all. The combined words and the photos leave no clear sense of authorship, creating instead a collective opinion about what it is to be a woman in the armed forces. Through Dec. 14. 1812 W. Main St. 353-0094. — Molly Dierks




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