In the Galleries

Our critics review local visual arts exhibitions.

Chester Street — Julie Placencia’s photography features the residents of the buildings on Chester Street in Oakland — including children and dogs — posed in front of their domiciles. She used this project as a way to venture into parts of her community she had not known, meeting her subjects and introducing them to each other. The artist’s statement includes a brief backstory for each of the people pictured. Placencia also presents us with a couch that was given to her by the family of Mrs. Jones of Chester Street when its owner passed away, as well as a collection of family photos, certificates, and newspaper clippings framed and hanging above the sofa. She invites us to sit upon it and listen to an audio sampling of sounds from the street. In so doing, she asks us to imagine ourselves part of this community, in these houses, among these families, even if all we ever know of them is these photos. (Through August 31 at Mama Buzz Gallery, 2318 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; or 510-465-4073.)

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.)

Down There — “Down there” is an allusion to euphemism, which is sometimes what art is — the attempt to say something without actually saying it. But art more often is a euphemism in reverse, the less polite, more unsettling way of saying something about the everyday. Here Susan Ayako Higo and Meadow Presley take mostly familiar objects and recast them into slightly embarrassing forms. Higo’s “The Egg” is a tea-tinted gelatin egg encasing a phallic banana and requires refrigerator storage to prevent rapid decomposition. It leaves a sickly-fruit stink in its wake. It’s kind of genius. Presley’s most intricate works include two pieces titled “sew buttons on your underwear,” one a pair of panties thickly covered in multicolored buttons, the second stitched all over in nacre buttons, as if constructed of tiny seashells and meant for that mermaid who might somehow find a use for underwear. (Through September 25 at Front Gallery, 35 Grand Ave., Oakland; or 510-444-1900.)

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.)

Inscribere — Artist Chandra Cerrito’s new gallery is currently presenting its inaugural exhibition featuring eight artists. There is some lovely and interesting work in this tiny space — Donald Farnsworth’s specimen prints superimposed over delicate renditions of excerpts from Darwin’s Origin of Species turns textbook science into captivating art; Arthur Huang’s “2002 Diet as Periodic Table” turns his eating habits into a rainbow-hued periodic table; and Lawrence LaBianca’s “Continuum” turns: it is a nearly-eight-foot-tall steel wind-powered contraption that traces circles on paper that are then dated and treated as separate works. Mickey Smith’s archival prints of library volumes are so crisply detailed that we find texture and variation in the industrial blue of bound issues of Spectator. (Through August 31 at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary, 25 Grand Ave., Oakland; or 415-577-7537.)

Interiors/Exteriors — Esteban Sabar has again connected three artists by the vaguest of thematics. Tracy West’s works are an abstract mixture of concrete, plaster and wood: thickly textured canvases that are not-quite monochromatic, vaguely earthy surfaces calling to mind sandstone caves or forest floors remembered more as visceral impressions than landscapes. Some of Vivian Prinsloo’s works might border on the cheesy, but the fractalization of light and sky seen through skeletal suburban trees and telephone poles in “Fragment” and “The Crow” is something else altogether. Scott Courtenay-Smith’s images of skewed and dreamily indistinct city streets are dominated by light-saturated sky blues married to the rusty-brown of concrete or adobe. Courtenay-Smith just misses the opportunity for true originality in perspective and content by slipping in a little too much of the expected. (Through September 3 at 480 23rd St., Oakland; or 510-444-7411.)

Keys That Fit — A gallery consisting of two smallish shop windows is bound to limit the art that goes in it. Dan Nelson’s avalanche of broken bits of Styrofoam is a case in point. It looks like, well, an avalanche of Styrofoam. The accompanying piece, a stratified hill of old batting, is a bit more interesting — there are variations in color and texture, mirroring fuzzy sandstone cliffs. This work, cumbersomely titled “Glacial Flowers in Colloidal Suspension or the Impossibility of Progress or Day After Snow,” mostly brings to mind all that old packing material you hold on to thinking it might prove useful one day. Sitting in front of the vitrine gallery is another work, a small sign crediting authorship to Herman Blunt. It is not clear whether he placed this piece here of his own accord or if it is part of the collection, but “Homeless Pillow,” a concrete cushion on the sidewalk, ostensibly there courtesy of “Esbanat Basar Gallery and Art Mummer,” is a tad more intriguing. (Through August 30 at 2312 Telegraph Ave., Oakland;

Reading, Not Reading, Coffee and Theories — Arthur Huang once again shows us that obsessive-compulsion can be more than a DSM-IV category. His “Theories Project: Study 2007.Q1vQ2” consists of dozens of small, neatly printed and framed statements. He posits theories about his habits of consumption: “More than fifteen times more money is spent on dance classes than is spent going out dancing” studies the evidence and reaches conclusions: “True.” His “Unread Book Project (2004-2007)” consists of books friends found sitting unread upon their shelves, together with brief descriptions of how the books were acquired and why they were not read. Huang invites others to trade in their own unread books for one upon his shelves, with an accompanying narrative. (Through September 1 at Mercury 20 Gallery, 25 Grand Ave., Oakland; or 510-985-0511.)

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