Cheap Wine, Free Cheese

Our critics review local visual arts exhibitions.

Building City Beautiful: Mayor Mott’s Oakland — Century-old photographs, news clippings, telegraph transcripts, and book excerpts tell a tale of corruption, hope, and fire in early-20th-century Oakland at the Oakland Public Library. Timed to coincide with the centennial of Mayor Frank K. Mott’s reign (1905-1915) and the San Francisco earthquake and fire (1906), the ironically named exhibit leaves a lot of questions unanswered about the place that was once called the “Carthage of the Pacific.” (Through April 15 at the Oakland Main Library, 125 14th St., 2nd floor; or 510-238-3134.)

Dreaming California: Ruth-Marion Baruch, Bill Owens, and Larry Sultan — The West Coast is not yet settled. Wild hills abut SFO airport. Coyotes can still be seen in North Beach. (Scientists have actually tracked them crossing the Golden Gate bridge late at night from Marin County.) The coyote can put you in a dream trance that you can never wake up from. Dreaming California conjures some of the dream states endemic to this wild state, and in this case it’s hippies, porn stars, and the denizens of suburbia. (Through May 21 at the Berkeley Art Museum; or 510-642-0808.)

Lewis & Clark: The Corps of Discovery — Tattoo Archive takes us back to a time when face tattoos on chicks were hot and faux-hawks could get you killed. The little ink-hole on San Pablo doesn’t look like your traditional tattoo shop, what with all the bookshelves and evidence of scholarship. And it isn’t. Owner C.W. Eldridge is a Berkeley tattooing legend, writer, and scholar. In commemoration of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, he threw together a little exhibit of Indian ink. (Through July 31 at 2804 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; or 510-548-5895.)

Natural Fallout — Intestinal piping, spirographic noodling, and oil paintings that are literally falling apart in their frames comprise this surprisingly coherent show by 33 Grand curator Alex Munn. Most dramatic: Lisa Stoneman’s huge tapestries of abstract pipes dipped in milky amber. Her recipe includes a big sheet of fibrous white paper, five to seven gallons of clear acrylic paint (applied in layers; this takes weeks), knife cuts to create paint channels, colored acrylics, then more layers of clear acrylic on top. The things look bombproof, weigh upward of ten pounds, and come preloaded with totally original depth effects. More subdued are Amanda Hughen’s equally abstract “critical mass” blobs generated by the convergence of geometrical lines and organic forms. Her 2-D work complements the ideas in the equally mellow work of Jonn Herschend, a Berkeley MFA student more interested in confronting the process of painting than objects themselves. Entropy has gotten hold of his quaint, domestic objects (couches, digital scanners) before he can finish them. (Through March 31 at 33 Grand Ave., Oakland;

Re Claim — This “found-art” show dominated by random pictures and trash from the freeway-eviscerated neighborhood of North Oakland suggests erroneously that the only hope for the area is for it to be razed. A shrine of plastic bags cradles a framed emergency-room treatment release for COCAINE ABUSE in bold letters. Nice work, Tracy Timmins. A note to all curators: If it looks like learning-disabled kindergartners could accidentally make the entire show, just let them and raise money for charity. (Auto Gallery, 3321 Telegraph Ave., Oakland;

Surface & Time — This cerebral, minimal show features just ten photographs and one video installation, none of which deals with very much plot or point, because narrative is evidently overrated. The fourteen-inch-square full-color glossy photos mounted in pairs come from Oakland photographer Alisa Haller, who is obsessed with the effects of photographing through residential windows. You’ll see interior house glare; exterior rain distortion; glass warping; and even a little drapery as Haller plays with the concept of the lens within the lens within the lens. Meanwhile, her studio partner Heike Liss gets the big wall to herself. One hundred square feet lit by a digital projector proves that just because it moves, doesn’t mean it can’t be abstract art. Liss belabors the point through ten shorts lacking characters or dialogue but heavy on spooky, droning synth noises courtesy of her husband Fred Frith. This piece should be crap, but its deep superficiality, and the presence of a comfy couch, makes it totally enthralling. (Though March 30 at 21 Grand, 416 25th St., Oakland; or 510-444-7263.)

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