Summer sizzles this year at local art galleries. Often a slow season when galleries dust off old stock and settle in for a sales siesta, summer is seldom as dynamic as this month when experimental books, abstract paintings, artful furniture, Minimalist Pop, travel pictures and intimate letters vie for attention at four Minneapolis galleries.

Minnesota Center for Book Arts

Books take myriad forms in MCBA's "The Contained Narrative," featuring recent work by more than two dozen contemporary artists ranging from a sheet of beautiful handmade paper strung up like a hammock to little glass bottles full of feathers, stained paper and other ephemera. It includes accordion-fold books and books that are boxed, rolled, sculpted, spiral-bound and tied with string. Some are printed, others typewritten, cut up, popped out or garnished with twigs, musical notes, calligraphy and embroidery.

Formats range from such comparatively conventional pieces as Jim Dine's "This Goofy Life of Constant Mourning," a slipcased collage of photos, words, self-portraits and scribblings, to the purely metaphorical including Odine Lang's hinged seedpod and Daniel Essig's boat sculpture packed with old-fashioned metal type under the watchful eye of a wooden bird.

Their topics range from autobiographical musings to poetic alphabets, peace songs and political statements. Julie Shaw Lutts' "Resolution 1848," honors feminist pioneers by printing on embroidered white corsets the radical proclamations of women's rights drafted at the 1848 Seneca Falls convention.

Philip Zimmermann's "Sanctus Sonorensis" was prompted by his dismay after observing border patrol agents arresting bedraggled illegal immigrants in the Arizona desert. Wisely dodging the situation's fraught politics, he simply photographs the "big skies below which immigrants trudge, driven by economic desperation."

Given their laborious construction and delicacy, most of these book-sculptures are destined to remain unread, preserved instead in their sealed display cases. They are exquisite objects whose designs enhance their meaning and attest to the importance of their content. Extra copies of some are available for perusal in the MCBA's collection. Doing so rewards the effort.

Ends July 26 • Free • 1011 Washington Av. S., Mpls. • 612-215-2520 •

Circa Gallery

In an inspired collaboration, Circa is showcasing abstract paintings by gallery artists with smart furniture from the Minneapolis shop Omforme, which specializes in original or upcycled designs.

Paintings range from moody-blue panels by Shawna Moore to a pair of midsummer-green beauties by James Beaman and a delicate taupe-stained canvas by Gretel Stephens. Stillwater designer Nick Thompson turned a bark-edged slab of black walnut into a splendidly refined table from Omforme, while K. Wyman and C. Averbeck transformed a worn stump and two slabs of concrete into a handsome bench.

Ends July 11 • Free • 210 N. 1st St., Mpls. • 612-332-2386 •

Groveland Gallery and Annex

Vacations evidently bring out the best in Groveland Gallery's artists, who deliver unexpected vistas in their "Pictures From a Trip" show.

In Thomas Paquette's hands, dusky Tuscan shadows settle over distant hills beyond a "Roof to Horizon." At "St. Joseph's State Park," Jaron Childs finds luminous light suffusing a watery marsh, and in "Swedish Grass," Jean Gumper turns bent grass into a serene blue abstraction. Don't miss Fred Hagstrom's wonderful sketchbooks from the South Pacific. And best of all, Rod Massey, known for charmingly cartoonish portraits of south Minneapolis houses, surprises with a pitch-perfect study of a Paris wall under a slate-gray sky.

The "Love Letters From Artists" show in Groveland's Annex is a must-see treat curated by avid St. Paul letter-writer Peter Kramer. More than 80 Twin Citians mailed in heartfelt illustrated notes and billets-doux, all pinned up with their equally charming envelopes.

Where to start in a delightful display that ranges from Chinese brush painting to French courtesans? Justin Terlecki's drawing of the "Fountain at Irvine Park" recalls a night when his love "made angels in the January snow." Mike Norman's playful dogs cavort under a cedar while "Barking our love for Jan." Kramer drafts a black-humored note to Russian avant gardist Kasimir Malevich from "Uncle Joe" (Stalin) warning that "The honeymoon is over." Former Star Tribune illustrator L.K. Hanson romances his favorite fluids, ink and coffee, in an elegant hand and an even more elegant envelope. Marvelous, all of them.

"Love Letters" ends Aug. 15 • "Trip" ends Aug. 29 • Both shows free • 25 Groveland Terrace, Mpls. • 612-377-7800 •


Bold colors, simplified forms and pop-culture motifs link the sculptural installations of Oregon artist Donald Morgan and Minneapolis-based Kelly O'Brien in a vibrant, tautly edited show.

Morgan's limited palette of bright yellow and black suits his minimalist sculptures inspired by war literature and westerns. He has reduced battlefield paranoia to its essence — black plywood panels, flags or stacked boxes pierced with two-inch holes. In a shorthand at once cartoonish and unnerving, the holes look alternatively like peepholes or bullet holes, evidence of cowering life, or death. Western tropes are reduced to a steel cowboy hat and rope coiled into a hangman's noose.

Predominantly silver, hot pink and candy-colored, O'Brien's "Kulture High" paintings and sculptures are playfully Pop. Made of vinyl, duct tape, spandex and glitter, they're stamped or painted with snarling cats and feral-kitty portraits. There are no conceptual breakthroughs, but O'Brien cleverly uses the cats as dyspeptic actors in a High Culture/Low Culture snit fit. In "Cat vs. Sculpture," a disdainful kitty glares at a little fuchsia cube as if it were an errant mouse. Elsewhere, monochrome canvases bulge and sag, big Pop rocks sprawl, and a feline screeches "Abstract Expressionism BAD!" at a banal lime-and-silver canvas encircled by a nylon scrunchy. So true.

Ends July 18 • Free • 2909 Bryant Av. S., Mpls. • 612-871-2263 • • 612-673-4431