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In a group show, artists embrace a faux naive style

The season of group shows is up and running. Most of them are catchalls showcasing a gallery's roster of artists, but some have more thought behind them. ''My Perspective," curated by osp gallery's Steven Zevitas, is a bracing, exciting exhibition, examining the recent trend of academically trained artists using a folksy or faux naive style.

These artists flatten and break open space, skewing traditional perspective. It harkens back to the work of Picasso and Matisse, which often simplified depictions of space in order to thrust the viewer back to the surface of the painting. While the artists here share their forebears' concern with surface, they also pull the viewer in. Many use minute details and patterns that bring you nose to canvas. Some, like Ann Toebbe and Kanishka Raja, use foreshortening and angles to lure the viewer into a spatial maze.

All have a romance with color. Sarah McEneaney is a mid-career Philadelphia artist known for chronicling her everyday life. Her egg tempera ''New Roof," showing the industrial landscape outside her studio window, is at once sparkling and grimy. The new roof, flat and white-gray, snakes peculiarly along atop a zigzagging red building; it looks like a sidewalk. Pattern is everywhere: in the distant brickwork, in the lush foliage growing up against the building, in the tiny wire trash can on the roof. The detail anchors us in a world that doesn't quite make spatial sense.

The rest of the artists are in their 20s and 30s. Toebbe, who recently got her master's degree from Yale, has a marvelous painting that looks straight down into a living room, a dizzying perspective even if all were as it should be. It's not. A bathroom folds out sideways; a sofa and wall drop down from the top and face directly out. Toebbe fills the work with stunning minutiae, like the weave of a braided rug on the hardwood floor, then piles on different lenses through which to view the scene: a glass tabletop; the flood of sun from a skylight.

Carolyn Swiszcz offers up a street scene that shuffles the flatness of a storefront with the depth of the sidewalk before it. Raja uses pattern to flatten or stretch his spaces; the use of perspective in ''Smooth Jazz" bounces in and out. The work in this show is less defiant and daring than that of Matisse and Picasso (it would have to be). It's more like these artists are exploring the strange attic their progenitors broke into, and finding all sorts of treasures.

My Perspective: The Phenomenon of Faux Naive in Contemporary Painting
At: osp gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through Aug. 20. 617-778-5265.

New Art ’05: Reason and Squalor
At: Kingston Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through Aug. 13. 617-423-4113.

What Is BIG?
At: Brickbottom Gallery, 1 Fitchburg St., Somerville, through Aug. 20. 617-776-3410.

Too much structure
The Kingston Gallery's annual national juried show, curated by Laura Heon, the outgoing curator at Mass MoCA, breaks down, as the title suggests, into two categories, ''Reason and Squalor." Maybe all art does -- it's either serene or provocative. It's an unfortunate effort to structure the kind of a show that shouldn't be structured, except perhaps by attending to how one piece looks beside the next.

There's work by 17 artists here, with an emphasis on photographs, and it's all fairly strong work. Pablo D'Antoni's oil-on-panel paintings of tiny scenes on expanses of flat color are engrossing and fun. Photographer John-Paul Jespersen shoots long exposures that turn night into an eerie day, as in ''Seaweed at Night." Heon gave the Juror's Award to C.J. Fields, whose color photos of recently clear-cut land are both startling and strangely calming.

Marina Kuchinski's ''Slow Motion II" has two ceramic heads projecting from the wall, one looking up and one looking down, each with a fall of platinum hair nearly reaching the floor -- it's ghastly and beautiful. Amy Stevens makes ink-jet prints of baked goods gone wild, like a tower of cupcakes, all in colors so sweet you get a sugar rush just from looking. On the whole, the exhibition is fun, but because it casts such a wide net, it's not much more than that.

Big ideas
There's more focus to ''What Is BIG?" a member show at Brickbottom Gallery, but the result is sketchy. A number of artists at Brickbottom work within traditions -- like abstract painting and sculpture, or quilting -- but don't push much at the limits. So not much in this show is big in conception or even execution. Wally Gilbert's four-part color photo of shining pipes standing on end, ''Melal No. 1" stands out for sheer rhythm and tone.

Julie McAskill's entrancing ''Odd One Out" features brown paper pressed on canvas, all wrinkled and grainy, in three sections. The two outside strips of paper feature cutouts to still lifes of pears. The texture of the paper is like skin, and it's hypnotic; the revelation of traditional still lifes beneath beautifully conflates the domesticity of grocery shopping with tensions between contemporary art and art history. David Marchione's ''In the Manner of N.C. Construction" looks like what would happen if Piet Mondrian drew up a blueprint -- crisp, cool, and captivating.

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