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In with a Bang

January shows span 40 years of Memphis art.

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There are no throwaways, no leftovers in Perry Nicole's "1 x 41," a group show featuring a recent painting or sculpture from each of the gallery's 41 artists.

Susan Maakestad paints stark metropolises devoid of life. In Ramp #2, her world becomes even more existential. Gone are the crisply outlined parking lots, the concrete interstates, and the red nightlights of her earlier work. Pale blues and steel grays glow above the dark-green umbers of crumbling earth and blacktop. Nuanced colors of dawn and rich textures of decay are hauntingly beautiful, sobering reminders that the sun will go on shining on the face of the earth long after our demise.

A cow stands at the bottom of 1 x 25, Brandon Smith's long, lean totem of a painting with a scumbled beige background that could be mist or the creature's soft, flayed skin. Twenty-five blackbirds sit on an electrical line strung across the canvas like Christmas-tree lights. The wire on which the soothsayers sit pierces the cow's spine like an electric prod. While Smith's previous depictions of doe-eyed cows registered as kitsch or indecipherable koan, this painting transforms the creature into a symbol of the callousness of the world and its capacity for cruelty, including corporate America's relegation of many of these creatures to enclosures so tiny there's no room to turn around.

At Perry Nicole through January 27th

"Ted Faiers," the current show of the late artist's work at David Lusk, turns the clock back nearly 50 years. It's 1959, and Faiers, a longtime Memphis College of Art instructor and ground-breaking artist, is experimenting.

Before Faiers' powerfully satiric voice laid human foibles bare and chronicled the political/gender/racial revolutions of the 1960s, this artist recorded the exhilarating, unsettling malleability of the human figure.

The stylized motifs of his "Indian Space Paintings" series are shape-shifting into rocks that whorl like seashells that spin into waterfalls that flow into hourglass figures and silhouettes of breasts.

In Orange Figure, black hair cascades over breasts, waist, and thighs that look like ripe melons scooped out of rinds. Pulp drips down the right thigh of a figure that floats in a stark-white background of possibility.

At David Lusk through January 26th

Early in 2003, Artists on Central began as a community of hobbyists, retirees, and part-timers passionate about art. As evidenced by work in their current exhibition, "Deja New," many of these artists are maturing into painters of note.

Jane Croy's simultaneous evocation of earth's grit and complicated geometry makes Field a particularly satisfying work. Kathryn Abernathy's Becoming evokes misty riverbanks and meadows seen through windows streaked with rain. A stark-white ice machine topped by a green-and-white-striped awning and back-dropped by deep-red facades of a liquor store turn Franks, John Sadowski's depiction of that store, into the primary colors and reductive shapes of abstraction.

Artists on Central through February 29th

"Interactions/Interruption" is the UrbanArt Commission's 10-year retrospective at Memphis College of Art. The collection of DVDs, drawings, models, and photographs give us some sense of the vision, planning, and hard work required to bring public-art projects to completion.

During the past decade, the UAC has worked with 56 artists and completed nearly 70 projects that run the gamut from satire to sublimity, including John Salvest's cast-aluminum toilet-paper rolls stacked in the Cannon Center's restrooms; Alonzo Davis' and Pinkney Herbert's bold, 60-foot-long terrazzo floor abstraction in the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library; and James Carpenter's Light Veil, a dichroic glass sculpture that turns the library's stairwell into medleys of color and light.

Many UAC projects, including Jill Turman's sculpture of homes and buildings mounted on a train trestle, represent a nearly seamless partnership between artistry and place. Turman's Cooper-Young Trestle ushers us into a neighborhood where there are no strip malls, no chain restaurants, no large department stores. Each home, coffee shop, gallery, and cafe are as individual as the artists and small-business owners who live and work there.

At Memphis College of Art through January 30th

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