In the Galleries

Our critics review local visual arts exhibitions.

Bridal Fantasies: The Fashion of Dreams — Lacis Museum is not precisely a museum — it is a shrine to all things lace: a shop, a library, an exhibit hall, a history lesson. Playing on a small screen is a video, How to Make a Victorian Corset; lace doilies and veils shroud the walls; tatters tat away in a library nook; and tucked away in a back room full of delicate wedding laces is the current exhibit. A dozen wedding dresses and accoutrements outline a bridal history from the 1850s to the 1930s. We learn that Queen Victoria was the first to wear what we now think of as a traditional white wedding gown (in 1840); gaze upon folds of luxurious cloths and the sparkle of thousands of tiny beads; and glimpse wedding-night garters, bras, and intricate silken robes. These garments are as much testimonies to painstaking work and delicacy of craft as they are to the questionable power of the bridal fantasy and the price one will pay to live out one’s own. (Through August 4 at 2982 Adeline St, Berkeley; or 510-843-7290.)

Bridge to Sakai — One of Berkeley’s sister cities is the Japanese port town of Sakai, known for samurai sword production and tea ceremonies. The Berkeley Art Center is hosting a group show of several of Sakai’s most prominent artists — some of whom are official Living National Treasures of Japan. There are works both mediocre and lovely in this show. Yoko Yasumatsu’s transformation of wood into fruits, flowers, and origami boxes is charming — her brightly colored and gold-starred lotus filled with unshelled almonds is especially delightful. Kazuaki Nobata’s use of oils to produce landscapes of texture, depth, and dimension that seem both familiar and otherworldly (a sort of Japanese Middle Earth) are captivating, and Hotei Nagata’s calligraphy — both a tribute to the venerable tradition of the art and a mirroring of the history of cave paintings and hieroglyphics — are studiously playful. Yet Yoshiyuki Kitada’s wooden sandals and “Umbrellas” are without compelling interest, and Shozaburo Kawai’s monochromatic Sakuhin series fails to draw in the viewer. (Through August 18 at 1275 Walnut St., Berkeley; or 510-644-6893.)

Demolition or “Civic Pride Through Civic Improvement” — This exhibition at the Oakland Main Library commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of urban renewal in Oakland. From Governor Earl Warren’s Redevelopment Act of 1945 to 2005 proposals to improve the waterfront, the exhibit demonstrates that dry mix of hope, financial incentive, competing senses of enfranchisement and disenfranchisement, and ultimate discouragement that characterizes so many not-quite-realized grand urban projects. (Through September 15 at 125 14th St., Oakland; or 510-328-3222.)

Everything Kitchen Sink — The Mama Buzz Gallery is hosting a farewell show for Kitchen Sink, the arts and culture mag “for people who think too much.” It includes not only works from some of the publication’s illustrators, but also a wall of paraphernalia including past issues, news clippings, battered envelopes from artists’ mailings, and hand-scribbled editors’ notes: a fitting tribute to the paper-generating business that is magazine publishing. Works on display include Salgood Sam’s graphic art, depicting allegoric images of war and religion. Also included is an ink drawing of a scrawny hipster kid flipping through vinyl at a record store — an apropos image from a quickly receding past. Chris Lane’s works feature images from a less civilized 19th century, including a portrait of John Wilkes Booth, an outhouse, and a series of long-nosed revolvers. Molly Crabapple’s “A Page from the Bestiary” gives us a prancing dog in an Elizabethan ruff, lifting its leg as it gazes mournfully at the viewer. (Through July 29 at 2318 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; or 510-465-4073.)

Nancy Flores — No, you haven’t walked into an exhibit of Jack Vettriano’s lesser-known works. Java Rama Coffee Shop is showing Nancy Flores’ paintings, which demonstrate her fascination with glamour and a dancer’s appreciation for the svelte and muscular female form. The subjects of the paintings fill the frames but never look directly at the viewer, thus drawing your attention to a well-formed back, the trim outlines of a tiny belly, or the streamlined shape of a deceptively powerful calf. (Through August 31 at 1333 Park St., Alameda; 510-523-2116.)

National Juried Craft Exhibition — Art and craft have long had a troubled relationship, but the current ACCI Gallery show highlights artists who have done well to negotiate an understanding. The most successful are those who use surprising materials to form their pieces — media that the less imaginative of us might think mere detritus. Lorraine Oller’s vases are braided scraps of maps. The blue of printed water and the beige of landmass are ground for skittering black and red lines dodging over and under the braiding of the paper, bits of place names peeking through. Jane Woolverton’s “L’été” is an airy triple curtain of laced-together plastic six-pack holders, splashed with bright summery colors; it wouldn’t look out of place in your beach house in the Hamptons. Cynthia Jensen’s “Nests” are graceful pieces, steel twigs outlining the idea of a bowl, and Clayton Bain’s “Surf Table” and “Fish Table” are concrete- and cherry-colored woodworks that are practical, beautiful, and quirky. (Through August 18 at 1652 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; or 510-843-2527.)

Revisions/Recoverings — At the Magnes Museum, Amy Berk has transformed her grandmother’s table linens into glinting canvases of a melancholy nostalgia. She has taken tablecloths and stitched together napkins and stretched them over frames as if creating canvases awaiting the brush. Yet the images are already there on the surface — silken glimmers of floral designs, repeating monograms, and lacy patterns, as well as the irregular mottling of ancient food and wine stains. Berk likens these to the marks of the potter’s hands, calling the ghostly participants of long-ago suppers to their place as artists of everyday life. Her pieces are juxtaposed with two artifacts from the museum’s collection, a festival Kiddush cloth from 1745 and a Torah binder from 1814; she also calls our attention to the stains on these fabrics — not as blemishes, but as marks of living history. She wants to remind us that “art-making [is] inseparable from living … the line between the sacred and the profane is threadbare.” (Through August 5 at the Judah L. Magnes Museum, 2911 Russell St, Berkeley; or 510-549-6950.)

Summer Breeze in Paint — The two-year-old Artscape is located in a small house with a large backyard. This “gallery and sculpture garden” doubles as a high-end art shop, and thus leans toward interesting but largely unchallenging works. Leslie Safarik’s clay cats are scattered about the place, as are Mitch La Plante’s oversize glass fruits and vegetables and Archie Held’s $8,000 fountains. There are also nice surprises, such as John Oldani’s found-object art, and David Mudgett’s steel spiders. (Through August 9 at 1161 Alpine Rd., Walnut Creek; or 925 944 1544.)

Thread — In Johannson Projects’ current show, eight artists explore thread. Through this seemingly simple concept emerge complex, rich, and highly divergent works. Devorah Sperber, using math and magic, transforms a panel of thread spools into a refracted homage to Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” Kathryn Spence turns a teddy bear inside out and creates an ghostly snowy owl. The dangling threads of Tucker Schwarz’ sparse embroideries of residential streets evoke the unfinished quality of memory and suburban experiments. Alex Case’s pieces, with their drab industrial-color palettes, use the layering of fabric and rudimentary stitching to produce a soft depth and density that call to mind the most endearing of dystopic cityscapes. Katie Lewis produces a map of her physiological fluxes with deep red pins and thread, creating vaguely figurative thickets stretched across the pinpricks of her maladies. This is a show both cohesive and diverse — a happy update to your grandmother’s textile creations. (Through August 25 at 2300 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; or 510-444-9140.)


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