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Our critic reviews local visual arts exhibitions.

The Art of Living Black 2006 Group Show — More than a hundred artists ponied up $80 to show at this unjuried group exhibit with the feel of a swap meet. Eyeballs can’t help but stick to Shawn Weeden’s playful, orange-drenched “Boogie Woogie.” Weeden uses nine square feet of interwoven line lattices that are slightly offset to scramble retinal signals until the thing vibrates on the wall. Bright colors in bold forms also fuse with a graphic novelist’s layout and design sensibility in Malik Seneferu’s “Omnipotent,” where twin tapestries of FedEx arrows frame a cityscape dominated by a male silhouette. Then there’s Casper Banjo’s mixed-media piece “Confrontation,” in which the artist hides Spy vs. Spy eyeballs in an otherwise competent piece of MOMA-bound abstract art. Keep in mind that the cream of the TAOLB 2006 crop is scattered throughout ten other East Bay galleries. (Through March 19 at the Richmond Arts Center, 2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond; or 510-620-6772.)

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.” What happened to all the money Mott secured for the city’s residents when he took back the waterfront and port from private interests? How did a place built on “culture and commerce” end up lagging behind a neighbor that burnt to the ground, discharging 165,000 smoky refugees? Building City Beautiful shows a new city hall, new parks, and a mantra-like sense of civic spirit made more upsetting by its present, palpable lack. (Through April 15 at the Oakland Main Library, 125 14th St., 2nd floor; or 510-238-3134.)

Claim the World of Art as Our Domain — Lessons on home infiltration, social skills, and the death of fun punctuate a powerful, once-a-year juried show at the ProArts gallery in Oakland. Hundreds of locals threw down at least $25 to be judged and juried by ArtForum editor Michael Wilson, who cuts all but a handful of photos, installations, and drawings by eleven entrants. Photographer Morgan Konn breaks into houses, puts on the residents’ clothes, then takes broody portraits of herself posing in their space. Meanwhile, Shannon Wright’s clean line drawings of wearable machines look absurdly implausible except for the autistic precision that goes into the drafts. Behind her work, CCA student Scotty Enderle’s black disco ball rotates on the floor like a dark, collapsed star. (Through February 26 at 550 2nd St., Oakland; or 510-763-4361.)

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 has long been known as a trickster demigod; legend says it can take any form in order to divert unsuspecting people from their true path. 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.)

Esteban Sabar Gallery Artists’ Reception — First-time visitors to the 2,500-square-foot, newly opened Sabar gallery walk around in awe of the sheer size, diversity, and professionalism of this newest addition to the neighborhood. More than sixty pieces both abstract and figurative, classical and edgy hang in the multiroomed, labyrinthine facility that is bathed in warm track lighting. Even then, a few standouts cause visitors to clump in certain spaces. The first of these attractions is two pieces from Bethany Ayres, who has a great sense of humor combined with a deliberately limited palette. “Booze Bacon and Blueberry Pancakes” arrests people with its outline-heavy graphic style depiction of a maiden in bed, attended by cherubs and concessions. It has a sense of mirth and playful movement also seen in young up-and-comer Eric Helsley, arguably the most talented painter in Walnut Creek. Helsley fuses tagger flow with a cartoonist’s color wheel and an art designer’s layout in Bodhi Tree, the four-by-three-foot acrylic-on-canvas painting. He says he knows about 50 percent of what a painting will look like in the end, but it’s the improvisational flourishes in the other 50 percent that bring his work to life. (Through March 2 at 480 23rd St., Oakland; or 510-444-7411.)

Lewis & Clark: The Corps of Discovery — East Bay punks can’t compete with the original outcasts of this tragic kingdom. 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 on the south wall. (Through July 31 at 2804 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; or 510-548-5895.)

Lost and Found — Forlorn zombie ceramics and shattered cityscape sketches commemorate one year at 4224 Telegraph with Boontling Gallery curators Derek Weisberg and Mike Simpson. Weisberg is selling pieces on both coasts with his consistent style of broody, heavy-lidded, usually bald male ceramic figures. Weighing in at eight pounds apiece and usually denoted by their punched-out eye sockets and street-kicked skin tones of browns and blues, Weisberg’s figurines induce both compassion and repulsion, much like the hobos they resemble. Simpson also enthralls with ugliness. Just back from Mexico City with a bunch of small sketches that tend to isolate one or two elements from urban scenes, Simpson obsesses over the window panes on a hillside favela, or power lines choking the sky like wet hair. The effect is abstract, cluttered, engaging, and unique. It’s also selling briskly at under $200. (Through February 26 at 4224 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; or 510-295-8881)

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. Now, if only the name on the release wasn’t blacked out so we could see if it was yours. Equally abominable: boring skateboard photos and a found dresser filled with pink balloons. 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;

Skull — Little kids play with the icon of death and come off a bit naive in this irreverent, fun exhibit at Rock Paper Scissors. Jake Hout gets the most attention in the room of three artists with his large-format photoreal blue-tinged craniums featuring jagged bone joints. The Oakland artist is financed by an advertising mogul, and the work reflects that approachable, iconic-skull sensibility that seems light years away from the annihilation worship in Summer Bell’s pyramid of broken bottles, razor blades, and skull charms. The backlit effigies to the excess of the Marquis de Sade, Charles Bukowski, Mozart, and other inebriated creators look like something you might find in a middle-school locker. The messy bits are also absent from Nate Moore’s three small clinical sketches of animal skulls from road accidents. A bit underwhelming next to his four-foot-tall papier-mâché skull installation looming over the whole show. (Through February 24 at 2278 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; or 510-238-9171.)

Used Cars — Young Oakland artist Jake Watling fears plummeting from the Bay Bridge after an accident, as well as vicious raccoons, and sketchy, black-clad ice-cream men. The illustrator brings these fears to the walls and floor of the Mama Buzz gallery this month in a large collection of drawings and paintings dominated by schoolbus yellows and fresh-blood reds. It makes sense, considering Watling’s work is deliberately immature and sanguine. Vicious raccoons get the cartoonish stare of a child’s drawing in “What’s for Dinner,” while “King Me with a Crown” provides a dentist’s-eye view on a bloody root canal, complete with a thin streak of plasma dripping down the cheek and pooling on the neck. Tasty. This is template “Mission School”; the artist sidesteps the punishing anvil of art theory and history with simple sketches of his neighborhood and times. Just keepin’ it real, ya know. More important than Watling’s crassly rendered phobias is his keen eye for the crappy signage of Oakland; the totally chaotic mashup of fonts, colors, styles, and goals that inadvertently speaks tomes about the place. (Through February 28 at 2318 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; or 510-465-4073.)

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