The Barbara Krakow Gallery frames “Arise,” its summer group show, as an exhibition about polarities. It’s sleek, minimal, and conceptual, which is true to the Krakow aesthetic. But the greatest polarity in the gallery is between “Arise” and the small show in the venue’s side gallery, the mixed-media collages by Flora Natapoff.
There’s nothing minimal or sleek about them. They are dense, messy pieces. Natapoff, who taught at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard and now lives outside London, has multiple sclerosis, and her mobility is waning. In the past, she has made large paintings and collages with shifting perspectives, gestural kaleidoscopes of landscape and cityscape.
These works are small, crafted in her studio from previous efforts. There’s a sense of excavation about them, of delving back through time and space, and also of spackling it back together. Several have so many layers they are sculptural.
One untitled collage has a rolling charcoal landscape across the top. Below are structures: hard angles, a purple beam that might be an overpass, and on the right, what looks like a strong arm, contoured with light. Layer upon layer of sliced-up drawings and paintings suggest the buildup and condensing of time and experience.
The works by the seven artists in “Arise” are rigorous, crisp, and inquisitive. Amy Stacey Curtis explores perception in her series of drawings “12 inches.” She invited 99 people to estimate 12 measurements, from an inch to a foot, and for each drawing made 99 squares according to those wide-ranging guesses, from oversized borders to undersized interiors. The polarity here is between hard fact and estimation: Curtis crowd-sources measurements, and the squares get dense and overlapping in the middle, where they’re closest to accurate.
Nearby sits Sol LeWitt’s “Cube Without a Cube,” a small, skeletal sculpture that neatly plays off Curtis’s drawings, and also Michael Beatty’s “Samedifference,” another measurement sculpture. Beatty took a length of steel welded together at right angles and joined each end to an equal length of looping wood. The dark metal looks shorter, businesslike and industrial. The white-painted wood looks languorous.
Natapoff is unsentimental, an explorer of space and form. But her hand, in the gestures, the cuts, the accumulating layers, imbues these works with feeling: dark, sometimes exuberant; and fluid, sometimes stuttering. The works in “Arise” are sharp, but certainly more thought than felt.
Linda Gottesfeld visited the New Jersey suburb where she grew up and photographed a street there. She returned to her New York studio to paint the series “Pearlbrook Drive,” now up at Ellen Miller Gallery. She has brought a painter’s eye for space, tone, and detail to a neighborhood once so familiar she had probably stopped looking.
Gottesfeld’s contemplation of this one street, this one corner, has the feeling of a meditation. Every breath, every feeling, every depiction is slightly altered one to the next, even though the form is essentially the same.
“Pearlbrook Drive (series 1, #4)” is a straight-up view of the corner, with tended shrubs, a house, a white SUV. Gottesfeld paints with a loose hand and a pallid palette, but depicts a carefully manicured scene. “Pearlbrook Drive (jade)” has deeper colors, and the viewpoint tilts, as if you’re a passenger in a car driven by a teenager taking the curve too quickly.
She includes a few paintings of other places, driving into and out of the neighborhood. “Passaic Avenue” has a main artery moving straight back to the horizon. The soft lines of crisscrossing utility cables overhead make the sky beyond seem that much more infinite.
Last summer, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Boston-Strasbourg Sister City Association, 25 artists from each city made works that were shipped to artists in the other city, who added imagery. The art was then mailed back and finished by the original artist.
“The Par Avion Project,” an exhibition of that work at the French Cultural Center, is a lighthearted show. A catalog documents the evolution of each piece. The disadvantage of this type of work, which is based on an “exquisite corpse” game developed by the French surrealists, is that nobody gets too invested. The work, then, doesn’t go too deep. The advantage is the alchemy of collaboration, which can take surprising turns.
For instance, “Long Distance” started out with a workaday woodcut print by Bostonian Daniel Embree of a man gazing out of a cityscape with a clock tower in the distance. In Strasbourg, Suzanne Hancke contributed a black cutout of another man in the foreground, aiming his camera at us. From there, Embree enhanced the background, yellowing the sky. As it went along, the piece grew tenser in composition and tone.
Elli Crocker began “In the Fullness of Time” with a silver-on-black line drawing of a man, upside down, and a flying horse. Alain Allemand in Strasbourg added a simple strand of gold between two blocks of gold leaf, linking the figures. Crocker dotted the piece with more gold, drew in more strands, and turned it into a dreamy constellation. The uncertainty of what may happen next frees these artists to simply play.
through Aug. 1
through July 28
At: Barbara Krakow Gallery, 10 Newbury St.
LINDA GOTTESFELD: Pearlbrook Drive
At: Ellen Miller Gallery,
38 Newbury St., through Aug. 3. 617-536-4650, www.ellenmillergallery.com
The Par Avion Project
At: French Cultural Center, 53 Marlborough St., through July 26. 617-912-0400, www.frenchculturalcenter.orgCate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com.