On the Wall

Our critics weigh in on local art.

For complete up-to-date East Bay art listings, look under “Billboard” on the home page for the “Select Category” pulldown, then select “Art Galleries” or “Museums.”

Celebrating Frank Bette — Loner artisan Bette lived decades in old Alameda, working ostensibly as an antique-furniture restorer. But inside his solitary Victorian, the German native churned out the work of a knuckles-to-kneebones arts fanatic. In death, he left about seven thousand diverse artworks, from exquisitely tender still-life sketches to abstract woodworking. The discovery and catalogue of Alameda arts’ own Keyser Soze continues with a posthumous solo show. — D2 (Through Dec. 31 at 1601 Paru St., Alameda; FrankBetteCenter.org or 510-523-6957.)

Everyday Universes — Color, meet randomness. Justin O’Neill and Paula Malesardi zap the eyeballs with neon orange, glowing blood-red, and vibrating yellows in what appear to be technical topographical maps of imagined islands. Lines of blue, pink, and green denote altitude changes in these abstracts, which O’Neill says he creates with a spill or splash of shape against a flat, one-color surface. The Déjá Vu triptych echoes corollaries from the Mandelbrot set and chaos theory, while his Have We Met? series samples paleobiology with a trilobite shape iterated six times. Both pieces profess faith in some type of order underneath the chaos. The question they ask is, “Are you willing to be a believer?” — D2 (Through Jan. 6 at the Gallery of Urban Art, 1266 66th St., Oakland.)

Grids and Reflections — Beautiful abstract art hides in the mundane world of everyday objects. The East Bay’s Art Levit locates and captures those forms in nineteen color giclée photographic prints of urban scenes and geological formations. Brick facades hold exquisite decomposing linear patterns. Colorful, corroding pipes replace those boring, abstract color swaths in corporate offices. Is there some type of creativity coded into the everyday patterns of our lives? The stacks of wooden pallets and piles of compressed plastic recyclables whisper “yes,” while Levit is all ears. — D2 (Through Jan. 22 at the Photolab Gallery, 2235 Fifth St., Berkeley; 510-644-1400.)

Negotiating Desire — Evolution programmed our eyes to notice heavy contrast. Maybe that explains the allure of a black, drippy-painted soldier against a white background, or some bleak, dark boats in an ocean of milky morning haze. Kirsten Stromberg arrests retinas with fourteen contrast-heavy pieces ranging from humongous watery oils to petite sound art, with an emphasis on double meanings. Most exciting is Private, a three-by-five-foot black oil-on-canvas full-body portrait of what appears to be a recently departed soldier. Broad brush strokes subjugate realism for a more subtle impression of dissolution. — D2 (Through Dec. 22 at the JFK Gallery, 2956 San Pablo Ave. Berkeley; 510-649-0499.)

New Works — An uninventive title for an unassuming space. Look southwest from where Gilman hits the BART tracks, and you see a fenced-off green area. A split boulder of granite spits water at the front entrance as a steel sculpture whirls nearby. A New Leaf has hundreds of abstract fountains, whirling kinetic art, and tortured sculptures, all outdoors and ready for your backyard. — D2 (Through Jan. 15, 2005 at A New Leaf; ANewLeafGallery.com or 510-525-7621.)

Refa1 — You don’t necessarily need a reason to visit your neighborhood vibrator shop, but Oakland graffiti artist Refa1’s $425 art photo God-S is a good one. One of more than two dozen stills, it hangs way too high above the racks of dildos and masturbation cream on San Pablo. God-S reigns from her exalted position — face hidden in total shadow but for the glint off her aviator sunglasses, long lithe black limbs in controlled relaxation, with midnight-colored areolae complementing the composition. Exquisite. — D2 (Through Dec. 31 at Good Vibrations, 2504 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; GoodVibes.com or 510-841-8987.)

What’s Going On? — The curators of the ambitious new show about the Vietnam War era in California tell not one story but many. Along with a more straightforward chronology of the war itself, the show juxtaposes opposing voices. The accompanying audio tour is crucial to the viewer’s appreciation, but sadly, to get to often-riveting first-person accounts, patrons have to listen to a tedious summation of events relayed by an anonymous narrator. — B.K. (Through Feb. 27, 2005; MuseumCA.org or 510-238-2200.)

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