The thrills are cheap this month in the Thomas Barry gallery, as Michigan-based photographer Thomas Allen indulges in the titillating noir of postwar pulp.
Slicing into the covers of old paperbacks, Allen excises images of busty housewives, grizzled detectives and roughneck gunslingers, creating a cast of paper dolls that he photographs in lusty scenes of suspense.
Allen brings a dramaturgical flair to his lens work, leveraging depth perception, shadow and the occasional blurred focus to punch up the intrigue. A private dick, legs kicked up on his desk, eyes the bombshell in his office from between a pair of wingtip shoes. A haggard castaway, slumped forlornly on a raft, broods in a lonely cone of light. Each vignette, glossy and flamboyantly staged, has a brute kind of seduction, like a rough kiss on the lips.
But in this era of "Mad Men," burlesque revival and Dita von Teese, vintage-styled sex has grown pretty flimsy. Allen's work doesn't do much to rise above camp. And maybe he doesn't intend it to. He's published a collection of his images in a gifty coffee-table book, the type of thing you might find at Patina or Urban Outfitters, and that seems like an infinitely more appropriate venue for his work than a gallery.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. Ends Nov. 28. Thomas Barry Fine Arts, 530 N. 3rd St., Mpls. 612-338-3656 or www.thomasbarry.com.Michael Paul at Circa Gallery
With his quiet, prosaic scenes of small Midwestern towns, local painter Michael Paul veers dangerously close to hotel lobby/waiting room art -- and somehow manages to come away with something gorgeously understated and profoundly sincere. In luminous encaustic on linen works, Paul depicts the type of pastoral iconography that makes urban crawlers cringe: boxy red barns, big sky landscapes, stoic farmhouses standing like sentinels on the empty prairie, bedsheets billowing on a clothesline. But he does so in a way that avoids the nauseating quaintness so typical of the style.
More Mark Twain than Garrison Keillor, Paul favors plain-spoken intelligence over aw-shucks sentimentality. Each of his bumpy-faced paintings has a taciturn dignity, a matter-of-fact stillness that argues for finding poetry in the plain. There's a delight in simple geometric form (the flattened boxes and triangles of the barns, the lazy arc of power lines stretching across an alleyway). There's also a principled ethos of painting well without showing off. And the paintings' titles -- "Hollering up the street," "In the alley behind Dupont Avenue," "Hey Mae" -- all have that writerly quality of being just right.
10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun. Ends Nov. 28. Circa Gallery, 210 N. 1st St., Mpls.
612-332-2386 or www.circagallery.org.'Calling All Angels' at Form + Content Gallery
Despite an unfortunate title -- which references a song by Jane Siberry -- this group show manages to keep schmaltz to a minimum as it probes the ethereal transition from the here to the hereafter. Angels are the theme, and a huge downy robe, made from thousands of ivory feathers woven into a trio of mesh sheets, hangs prominently in the rear of the gallery, presiding like a crucifix over the exhibition.
The robe is Camille Gage's. And while the sheer fastidiousness of its composition makes the mind reel, its size dwarfs a nearby pair of her paintings that are more interesting. Each is a mottled swatch of angel flesh, with tiny veins of color pressing through a pale translucent skin. Exquisitely fragile, the paintings seem like they might bruise if breathed upon.
The best pieces in the show, though, come from Chicago-based graphic novelist Anders Nilsen. Nilsen, whose recent book "Dogs and Water" has been translated into five languages, is known for using dreamy-light illustration to investigate heavy existential issues. Here, he's made his angels pick pockets. Naked and reverent, they hover over their victims -- disheveled young men sprawled unconscious in a field -- and pluck dollar bills from their turned-out pockets. Nilsen excels at creating purgatorial nowheres, and his angel-inhabited plains may be the most successful imaging of the afterlife.
Duluth sculptor David Everett contributes a few of his "Angels for Our Times," cast-iron Barbie and Ken dolls fitted with fighter jet wings. Corroded and ugly, their physical weight made instantly apparent, they are a reaction to the funerals of fallen soldiers in Iraq. Here, the show leans a little toward preachiness, but the political statement doesn't distract from the think pieces surrounding it.
Reception 7-9 p.m. Sat. Open noon-6 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Ends Nov. 28. Form + Content Gallery, 210 N. 2nd St., Mpls.
612-436-1151 or www.formandcontent.org.