Laura Letinsky’s deceptively spare still-life photographs make astringently formal beauty out of leftovers and trash. Her show at Carroll and Sons visits four bodies of work the artist has made since 1999, all color photographs shot in available light. The light plays a vital role, filling in emotional tonalities.
For “Untitled #64’’ from the first series, “Hardly More Than Ever,’’ Letinsky photographed the discards of a family meal: a peach, small shell, pale blue cup, and more, all casting back to the gluttonous realism of Dutch and Flemish still lifes. A small slash of sunlight falls across the cup, off the far edge of the cutting board upon which it sits and onto the wrinkled sheet that is the backdrop. The sunlight might be the memory of the meal’s delights, sneaking away.
For the next two bodies of work, “Fall’’ and “To Say It Isn’t So,’’ Letinsky used Styrofoam and plastic discards as her subject matter. Yet her treatments imbue them with an almost spiritual power. “Untitled #8’’ from “Fall’’ features a plastic pudding cup and spoon, smeared with chocolate pudding. It sits in its white surroundings beside a plane of sunlight that might be a heavenly portal.
The works from the final grouping, “The Dog and the Wolf,’’ portray shattered flower arrangements. “Untitled #17’’ is a sad, gorgeous piece. The light is dusky, but the fallen petals and shards of glass nearly glow with what light is left. Like many of Letinsky’s photos, this one is about loss. When the feast is over and the flowers have died, she’s searching for what remains.
The show in the back room at Carroll and Sons, Michael Lewy’s digital video “City of Work: Office’’ shares many of Letinsky’s themes. Lewy created a fictional office space with design software. He inserts himself as the only worker. Pacing and idling, he comes across like a caged animal in a zoo. The only things that change are color and light. As daytime fades, the sky through the window behind goes red, then deep blue, while the fluorescent lights in the ceiling are a phantasm of green. “City of Work: Office,’’ in the end, makes for a lovely tedium.
Stumbling on sure feet
David X. Levine was still installing his works on paper at Steven Zevitas Gallery, organizing several small colored-pencil drawings into an installation, when I came through late last week. But his big pieces were up and lighted. The show is called “Amy Winehouse,’’ and many of Levine’s works reference popular culture; he seems to be channeling the energy of particular figures. In the large works, these include the late Suzanne Pleshette, the whiskey-voiced actress who played Bob Newhart’s wife on “The Bob Newhart Show,’’ and beat poet John Wieners.
“Suzanne Pleshette’’ is an ambitious and obsessive array of three nearly 6-foot-tall sheets mounted to the wall with binder clips. The first two are pure orange, filled in with colored pencil. The third has an obituary of Pleshette in the upper left, surrounded by an offbeat array of colored blocks and bands. The colors, the nearly invisible pencil marks, and the rhythms of the geometry add up to a brassy, crisp, albeit unsettling homage.
Levine is moving from curvilinear, biomorphic forms, which you can see in the smaller drawings, to rectangles. He told me he is striving to activate the picture plane the same way he does with what he calls his “wonky shapes.’’ That’s a terrific challenge: Wonky shapes make you feel wonky. Rectangles are orderly, safe. Yet Levine is rising to his task, and he does it with color, texture, white space, and an uneasy sense that order is coming undone.
“Scarecrow’’ features a lot of white space, with blocks of color running up both sides, and another slightly off-kilter assortment in the middle. Edges don’t quite line up. Marbled textures pull you in, and send you along visual paths. Colors bobble against each other. Some, collaged on, rise off the surface. There’s text, in cursive, near the top: “you’d love me if you could but you’re only,’’ a lyric Levine has toyed with from a song by the British 1960s folk group the Watersons. In the end, “Scarecrow’’ is effectively wonky: Bold, but wincing. Sure-footedly stumbling. Engrossing.
Details and flourishes
Lisa Vershbow is first a jewelry designer. While her husband, Alexander Vershbow, was ambassador to South Korea, she began to play with a deliciously textured Korean paper called hanji. She has made life-size paper sculptures of dresses - they can’t be worn, but they hang well on the wall - upon which to show off her jewelry.
There is an unfortunate element of store window display to this exhibit, but it gives way when you examine the fine details of Vershbow’s work. “Sailor Dress,’’ for instance, has a jaunty drop waist, little spangles down the bodice, a pleated skirt, and a bow. Vershbow’s jewelry is equally smart, mixing folk elements with Art Deco style and modern lines. She makes elliptical brooches with marbled paper and adds geometric flourishes; they work beautifully with the crisply tailored handmade paper dresses.
LAURA LETINSKY: Hot and Cold All Over MICHAEL LEWY: City of Work: Office At: Carroll and Sons, 450 Harrison Ave., through Feb. 18. 617-482-2477, www.carrollandsons.net
DAVID X. LEVINE: Amy Winehouse At: Steven Zevitas Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through Feb. 25. 617-778-5265, www.stevenzevitasgallery.com
LISA VERSHBOW: Paper Dresses Adorned - Paper Sculpture and Jewelry At: Ars Libri Ltd., 500 Harrison Ave., through Feb. 29. 617-357-5212, www.arslibri.com
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.