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Three shows shake up summer art doldrums

In the summertime, most galleries trot out their rosters of artists for summer group shows; it's the art world's equivalent of a television rerun. Luckily for art lovers marooned in Boston in August, some galleries program the slow season with their version of the summer replacement series. For the Judi Rotenberg Gallery, that means exhibiting three artists under age 30; for Kingston Gallery, it's an annual juried show pulling in artists from far and wide; for Arden Gallery, it's the rarest thing in the dead of summer -- a solo exhibition.

At Rotenberg, "Summer Science" (so called for each artist's commitment to method) brings together three very different artists whose works contrast to make a pleasing cocktail of a group show. Dan Golden's sepia watercolor drawings are the essence of simplicity: With tiny slivers of light and shadow and slender line, he renders paper clips on paper. That would give him enough points on technical difficulty alone, but Golden is up to something more interesting.

The artist hands the paper clips to his friends -- painters, architects, and other artsy folk -- and urges them to bend them into whatever form they wish. The tiny metal sculptures they fashion, drawn and arrayed in triptychs, are sweetly telling. "Robin Chalfin, Apparel," depicting the clips that fashion designer Chalfin bent, demonstrates a predilection for hooks and bows. "David Neilson, Architect" illustrates a drive toward three-dimensionality. It's an understated and clever way to make a portrait.

Sean Micka is the most scientific artist here, deconstructing both the iconography of beauty -- as represented in illustrations from an old encyclopedia -- and its representation.

Micka takes black-and-white images of mountains and flowers from the encyclopedia, breaks them down into purely linear drawings, then paints them. While this process renders the small paintings nearly photo-perfect, they also verge toward dissolution into pure abstraction.

Micka's process echoes that of the Boston-area painter David Sullivan, who uses drawing and then painting to break some of the great works of Cézanne into their component parts. Both blend majesty with an unsettling paint-by-numbers fragmentation.

Nicole Deponte adds color and juicy delight to the exhibition. For her, it's almost all about materiality: the sensuality of ink and other stains, the bright iridescence of beads. She builds images out of thickets of color and collage all dolloped together, hovering on the white page. Then she takes a pen and draws tenuous black lines, suggesting antennae or slender stems, giving each piece a naturalist slant. In these drawings, the pout and verve of the fashion pages get kidnapped by a pocket guide to insects, and it's all to the good.

Fragments and entities This year's juror for "New Art '04," the Kingston Gallery's annual exhibition, turns up some tasty tidbits. Ann Wilson Lloyd, who writes for Art in America and The New York Times, has tapped a number of works that emphasize the relationship between the fragment and the whole, then has thrown in a few with dark, visceral, and comical references to the body. She has skimped on representational art in favor of abstract; there's more interest in space and concept than in lush materiality. If the focus is narrow, it makes for a more vigorous exhibition than one vainly trying to cover all the bases.

First, the (fragmented or absent) figure: Chris Eckert humorously evokes distaste in "Glove with Fish," in which a latex-gloved hand projecting from the wall delicately holds a goldfish by the tail. Susan Freda's "Amber Dew Dress," made from woven wire and tree sap, is so delicate it looks as if a spider made it; the sap is indeed like dew, suggesting in an instant the dress might dissolve. Dietrich Wegner's hysterical, oversized "Pink Lump" emerges, veined and glowing, from a pale orifice on the wall, conflating bodily excretion with something both holy and monstrous.

Organizers ought to have hung Tim Dooley's "Where's My Mind? Or Finding a Hole" beside "Pink Lump." Dooley lifts bits from coloring books then puts them together on a computer, turning the bold lines and gestures -- like puffs of smoke -- to his own devilish ends. Blobs that could be characters spurt, open, and blow in a humorous chain reaction. Nearby, Beth Gilfilen's "Up Against A Wall: Domestics 1-18" is a grid of small collages made from paint chips and drawn over with red pen. Sometimes they suggest the twisted metal of a car wreck; sometimes a lovers' embrace; it could be the journal of an intimate relationship. Karen Schiff makes collages from worn, brown blank pages torn from old books, evoking the possibilities of memory and imagination. "Ouroboros (The Tempest)" has them stuttering in a rectangular spiral, like the path of a rich storyline.

There's more to see -- 20 artists in all, and 30 works of art in this refreshing summer show.

Apples and pure form Robert C. Jackson, whose exhibit is up at Arden Gallery, is a deft still-life painter who injects a little narrative into his works by setting up interesting relationships among his subjects. "Caught in the Middle" sets five red apples on one crate and five green apples on another.

A ruler spans the distance between the two, and an apple that is reddish-green perches atop the bridge. "Husband and Wife" puts a red apple on a green stool and a green apple beside it on a red stool. They're mildly clever paintings, and easy to relate to. Their strength is not in their cleverness, which can get cutesy in volume.

It's in Jackson's willingness as a still-life painter to go beyond the perfection of form -- the warmth of light on a splendid apple -- into the ordinariness of his settings. Like his slightly forlorn narratives, torn upholstery and electrical outlets puncture the pristine aspirations of the still life. 

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