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Hot and Heady

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Four of the new season's best shows are hot and sensual rather than cool and conceptual--though they're not lacking ideas. At Bodybuilder and Sportsman, Leslie Baum's abstracted landscapes based on her travel photos are striking for the way their contrasting forms intensify the lovely colors. Flat tan rocks outlined in black in I Remember Rock River Valley suggest a cartoon style while large washes of fuzzy browns and grays are as diffuse as clouds. In Feather Weight, outlined rocks in pastel colors hover illogically above hazy areas in similar colors; below and to the right, smaller dark rocks actually cast shadows, as if firmly planted on the ground. Baum says these paintings are "distillations and fanciful reworkings of a location," and the contrast between realistic renderings and floating rocks does remind us of the subjectivity of our perceptions.

Adam Scott's landscapes are painted in a similarly limited but sensuous palette; the images are based on his Photoshop manipulations of media photos and others he takes himself. The works have an apocalyptic feel informed by his fears for the future, intensified by our aggressive, self-destructive response to 9/11; he nicknames his show at Kavi Gupta "Armageddon in the Noonday Sun." At first glance Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful is relatively calm, with the look of a children's book: a gentle green lawn and blue sky take up most of the image. But a huge dark hole in the lawn is made more ominous by the pretty flowers that ring it; floating above it are two mysterious chained-together suitcases with the feet of cartoon characters. For What We Do in Secret he stretched a photo of two homes vertically so they resemble pretentiously oversize condos; a red hammer emerging from a cloud seems to threaten them with demolition.

William Conger's abstract paintings at Roy Boyd were inspired partly by the colors of childhood games and toys and partly by high modernist abstraction. Pioneer imposes solid, cleanly outlined shapes on a hazy mix of blue and white forms strongly suggestive of a 19th-century romantic sky, a continuous field not found in the show's other works. Especially in light of the title, this piece struck me as a commentary on the way human settlement imposes solid manufactured shapes on the gentler, more variegated patterns in nature, and Conger says that it is one of his goals to evoke "our greedy exploitation of space."

"I revel in color," Martina Nehrling writes--and this is one artist's statement that's substantiated by the work. Based on her past exhibits, I expected a cheerful use of color at Zg: her abstract paintings are typically filled with explosions of rhythmic brushstrokes in many vibrant hues. Rooted in Water is characteristic, its vertical marks primarily in shades of blue that contrast not only with the yellow background but with the red strokes just below many of the blue ones. The more recent Wondering marks a shift in approach. Here Nehrling groups her brushstrokes into a single discrete shape, a sort of whirlpool spiraling from blue at the outer edges toward bright reds and oranges around a blank center, a void. This use of color is almost frightening, disturbingly hot in comparison to the gray background. It turns out that Nehrling also had a social purpose in mind. She says her paintings are in part her attempt to cope with our information overload--the "complications of convenience" produced, for example, by the identical messages left on land and cell phones. Nehrling says her paintings help her deal with "our volatile existence. . . . At times I'm able to flirt, and at times I'm almost consumed."

Leslie Baum

Bodybuilder and Sportsman

119 N. Peoria

through October 23

312-492-7261

Adam Scott

Kavi Gupta

835 W. Washington

through October 23

312-432-0708

William Conger

Roy Boyd

739 N. Wells

through October 19

312-642-1606

Martina Nehrling

Zg

300 W. Superior

through October 9

312-654-9900

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