Slivers of skewed spaces underlying structure

“Incident 415’’ by Mary Lum.“ “Incident 415’’ by Mary Lum.“ (Carroll and Sons)
By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent / June 15, 2011

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Urban space collapses in Mary Lum’s mind-bending works on view at Carroll and Sons. In paintings, collages, and photos that spring from a DNA cocktail that includes Stan Lee, Robert Rauschenberg, and Albert Einstein, Lum has taken over the gallery, commanding the viewer’s attention in ways large and small.

Let’s start with the small. She brings intimacy to a series of 14 pieces, each less than a foot wide, one abutting the next. They lead you around a corner; even as you’re pulled into each work, you’re conscious of the architecture around you. Some are simple photos, such as “Paris Incident 1102,’’ which depicts a portion of sidewalk where the adjoining wall shifts from brown to black-tiled under sky blue. Look, Lum seems to be saying. Things change.

“Incident 4,’’ in the same group, foils expectations with a series of fragments that arc back in folds, creating the illusion of depth. There’s a sliver of a photo of gravel; a sliced-up comic, now blue mesh; passages of paint, and a photo of a hallway that leads us even deeper. Lum extends a pipe running down the hallway floor out into the empty foreground with another slice of comic book.

She jumps scales in “Incident 51611’’ by highlighting a gallery support beam in warm yellow, which crosses the ceiling and drops down the wall to the floor, making a portal. Mirrors placed on the floor on either side suggest that the yellow drops below floor level, onward forever. Space is not what you think it is in Lum’s world.

For “Incident 415,’’ a mixed-media work on paper, Lum uses just the edges of panels from comic books (which she blows up and copies) to build an unwieldy, skeletal structure against a ground of blue over poison green. Look closely, and you’ll see a pink knee, a blue arm, a rumpled head along the swiveling structure, which looks like an edifice, or a twisted city map.

She uses everything in her toolkit to open space up, or to add more thrust to skyscrapers, but in so doing her cityscapes also flatten, skew, and topple. These works reference architecture, but with their convolutions and contractions, they convey something less orderly, something monstrous and beautiful, something more than the city’s structure: its life.

Images distilled

Kay Ruane brings exacting draftsmanship to her examination of mostly early silent films in her show at Ellen Miller Gallery (formerly Miller Block Gallery). Ruane carefully renders frames from the movies, sometimes layering images, sometimes sequencing them. What we now see as exaggerated acting in the old films comes across here as a humorous wink from the artist.

Look at “An Unseen Enemy 00:02:19:15.’’ The number represents the time code of the frame Ruane draws — that’s one-twenty-fourth of a second. “An Unseen Enemy,’’ made in 1912, was an early Lillian Gish vehicle directed by D.W. Griffith. Here, a terrified Gish and another girl, both in striped frocks, look on as a gloved hand holding a pistol pokes through a hole in the wall. Ruane enhances what must have been a grainy image, capturing every finger curl, every lock of hair.

“A Corner in Wheat 00:12:32:26’’ features an image from the 1909 Griffith film about a tycoon who corners the wheat market, then falls down a grain shaft and suffocates. Here, several people gather in a composition familiar from Baroque painting, creating a dramatic frame around the victim — an allusion that passes on film, which the artist highlights. Again, Ruane gives us more than the old film could: the shiny leather of the shoes, the spray of plumage on a woman’s hat, one man’s angry expression.

Distilling murky images from over-the-top moments in old films, Ruane fondly lays bare the filmic storytelling tropes of the day.

Squares of memory

Carrie McGee’s lovely grids of translucent acrylic blocks at Lanoue Fine Art go through months of process before they’re complete. She rusts scrap metal on them. She soaks them in trays of watery paint until it evaporates. She chips the blocks and edges them in silver, gold, or copper leaf, and sometimes lets that oxidize. She applies paint. She layers photographic images onto the back.

The results are fluid dreams, suspended off the wall with industrial hardware on metal cables hanging from hooks. The blocks are vaporous red, sunny honey, blue deepening to violet. The textures seep, ruffle, drip. They cast sweet reflections on the wall.

“Cicada Season’’ is a 3-by-5 grid in warm tones. Two circles hover across the squares; it might be the memory of an old hubcap, applied to the top in rust, then printed on the bottom. In other blocks, smaller circles bubble and ghostly traces of rectangles appear to rise to the surface, bright orange rust.

“Strata’’ is a column of five squares. The top is yellow, with a bright orange clasp shape, like a tilted, curious head. Three blocks look like delicate seascapes, and another, berry red, has a sacred circle filling it. The effect of the translucent tones is a sense of some bright ether from which memories and imaginings rise.

Cate McQuaid can be reached at

MARY LUM: Accidental Incident

At: Carroll and Sons, 450 Harrison Ave., through July 2. 617-482-2477,

KAY RUANE: Time Codes

At: Ellen Miller Gallery, 38 Newbury St., through June 30. 617-536-4650,

CARRIE MCGEE: Mixed Media Constructions

At: Lanoue Fine Art, 125 Newbury St., through July 5. 617-262-4400,