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Theater & art

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Seeing pathos and comedy behind Falco’s labels

A detail of Pat Falco’s installation “Just Happy to Be Here.”

A detail of Pat Falco’s installation “Just Happy to Be Here.”

It’s easy to get distracted by the deadpan humor in Pat Falco’s installation “Just Happy to Be Here,” at Montserrat College of Art’s Carol Schlosberg Alumni Gallery. I laughed out loud, making my way along two walls crowded with layered patterns, cartoony figures, paintings, photographs, and text.

Falco scrawls labels right on top of pictures. In case we’ve forgotten the obvious, he writes “Big Wet Thing” across a seascape. He toys with double entendre by penning “Street Art” on a kitschy painting of a boulevard. Then there’s a photo of the sign he posted in front of a massive construction site: “Coming Soon Luxurious People!” He skewers presumptions about art, class, history, and mental health by stating bare facts.

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But there’s more to the piece. Falco crammed dozens of works onto two walls, referencing the installation style of paintings at the 18th- and 19th-century Salon at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Yet, with its graphics, overlays, and pulsing patterns, it more resembles the visual jam of one of Barry McGee’s installations, rhythmic and in your face. Falco’s work, though equally caffeinated, has an underlying sweetness.

Certain figures repeat, such as a bearded man in a suit, arms akimbo. Appearing again and again, he reads like a cartoon of masculinity, even when Falco foils him by painting his beard peachy pink and letting it flow out of the frame. Women show up, mostly wearing headscarves and looking frightened or bereft. The eyes of these characters lead us around the installation; they look pointedly at other objects, and at each other.

A distraught Christ wears a crown of thorns, and around his neck hangs a pendant featuring his own image. Perhaps he’s having his 15 minutes of fame. Falco doesn’t explicitly critique society and its expectations and perversions; rather, he gently points out the ache that underlies them, with pathos and comedy.

Elfleda Russell’s “Homage to Chagall,” from “The Beadmaker’s Art.”

Elfleda Russell’s “Homage to Chagall,” from “The Beadmaker’s Art.”

Beauty and the beads

Beads, often, are tiny little things, and to make anything of scale or ambition with them can take months. But the results can be breathtakingly detailed, with eye-catching color. Several such works are on view in “The Beadmaker’s Art” at Mobilia Gallery.

Imagine, then, Elfleda Russell’s “Homage to Chagall,” a teapot form with a rooster’s head at the spout, a blue ram at the handle, and a sad-eyed cat perched on the lid, like some of the dreamy animals in Chagall’s paintings. A portrait of Chagall and a companion sipping tea are sewn on one side, a rendering of his spirited painting “The Fiddler” on the other.

It took Russell two years to make. She fashioned the teapot from plaster, gauze, and modeling paste, then stitched the thousands of beads over a form-fitting skin. It’s a marvel of delicate technique.

Jeannette Ahlgren, in the open vessel “#141 Echoes,” sets glass beads in woven patterns that resemble the crisp geometries of Native American textiles. The purple wires used for the weave spring from the top as if freed, spraying like fireworks.

On the silly side, David Chatt puns with his “Handbag,” a functional purse that looks like a big, open hand, complete with seams along the knuckles and palm, all covered with sewn glass beads. And Jan Huling’s “I’m a Little Teapot” features a googly-eyed baby doll outfitted with psychedelic bead patterns in blue, white, and pink, looking regal or godlike in costume and posture, with one hand on a hip and the other raised. There’s a crank on the back; it plays the titular nursery rhyme.

Lighthearted, goofy pieces like these seem almost like one-liners, except for the arduous and masterful work that went into them. That imbues them with strange gravity, even as they shine and entice with their pretty glass beads.

Contemplating, collaborating

“War Against Magic” at Gallery Kayafas spotlights emerging artists who toy with our visual assumptions. Curator Stephanie Dvareckas includes some smart work in the show, in particular that of Carlos Jiménez Cahua, whose photography-based art grows increasingly conceptual as it contemplates what, exactly, the components of an artwork are.

For instance, he disrupts a “real” photo image by rotating selections of its pixels in “Untitled #80.” You can see it was a portrait, perhaps of a woman, but it twists into a vortex. Jiménez Cahua also questions whether the art is the object or the idea, Sol LeWitt-style, by declaring his art the TIFF file it comes as; if you buy it, you can print it on anything. Here, Dvareckas has chosen to print it on a throw blanket.

Glass artist Zachary Herrmann and video artist Unum Babar collaborate on the lovely “9/1:48.” Herrmann’s clear, biomorphic pieces sit on the edge of a pedestal; beneath each of them Babar’s video projection shows glass as it’s blown — swelling, dropping on a thread, rising. It looks as if Herrmann’s glistening pieces are breathing their own substance in and out.

Jenna Westra creates assemblages, which she then photographs. In “Mirror, body, tripod,” her arms and legs jut from behind a mirror reflecting a tripod, which seems to replace her torso with its mechanical limbs. “War Against Magic” pushes at the edges of our expectations, provoking discomfort, but leaving the magic in place.

More information:

THE BEADMAKER’S ART

Mobilia Gallery, 358 Huron Ave., Cambridge, through Sept. 7. 617-876-2109, www.mobilia-gallery.com

WAR AGAINST MAGIC

At: Gallery Kayafas, 450 Harrison Ave., through

Aug. 31. 617-481-0411, www.gallerykayafas.com

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com.
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