There’s a bespectacled white owl perched high up in the middle of the exhibition “Joe Zane: Who Should a Person Be?” at Carroll and Sons — a sculpture, actually, titled “Till Eulenspiegel,” after a trickster character in German folklore. It’s the still center of a show in which everything else feels illusory, transitory, ungraspable.
The German character played on miscommunication; tales about him emphasize that we each have our own framework for understanding the world, and yours won’t perfectly match mine. Seeing the gaps between the two can lead to awakening. Zane’s perspicacious owl represents the possibility for that awakening, however momentary.
Around the bird, the world — the exhibition, that is — spins and jangles, as the artist examines slippery identity, art-world values, even mortality, in work that’s wry and filled with pathos.
JOE ZANE: Who Should a Person Be?
Zane has populated the gallery with sculptures of dead and dying flowers on rickety plywood tables. In “Oops,” a vase of roses has fallen on the floor and broken. Ridiculous and sweet, these works speak of a finished relationship, and a spurned sweetheart who can’t bear to clear out that last, messy, sagging token of love.
Sixteen paintings titled “This one” hang on the wall. Zane put a photo of himself through a Cubist filter in Photoshop several times, leaving color and composition to the computer program, and copied each in paint, flouting ideas of authorship and originality held dear by the art world.
The show’s title, “Who Should a Person Be?,” and the answer “This one,” suggest that identity is as fractured and shadowy as a copy of a photo run through a jokey Photoshop filter. But if Zane’s works embody an emptiness that’s the flip side of a well-stroked and tended ego, the ideas behind them are solid, subtle, and provocative.
“Till Eulenspiegel” appears to regard another painting, “zjaonee.” It’s rendered on a wood panel from which Zane has carved jutting, triangular columns. Come at it from one side, and it reads “Joe.” Approach from the other, and you’ll see “Zane.” Face it head on, as the owl does (perhaps asking “who?”), and you get a bollixing jumble of the two.
The painting captures “Till Eulenspiegel”’s riddle of communication. People standing in different parts of the room read it differently. The straight-on view challenges us to assess how complicated and hard to pin down things really are.
Like Zane’s work, Federico Uribe’s whimsical collages, up at Adelson Galleries Boston, raise an existentialist chuckle. Uribe’s art is not as conceptually sophisticated. It’s driven by narrative, which often seems prompted by technique.
And Uribe’s technique captivates. He intricately draws figures, animals, and landscapes, using electric cables and shoelaces as if they were strokes of paint.
A shoelace piece, “Your Presence in My Head,” depicts pinkish feet standing on a man’s head, and streaming up off the panel — cheeky, if broad, psychological humor. In “Grounded,” made entirely of electric cables, a man bends over and wrings his long, black hair with his hands; the hair drops off the panel toward the floor, where it ends in electric plugs.
There are suggestions in the cable works of how wired we’ve become, how dependent on our devices. Uribe’s points can be heavy-handed; he was classically trained, and some of his images carry an unironic romanticism that feels odd, and sometimes outright clunky, in the Pop-tinged style he has cultivated.
The largest, most detailed, and most technically ambitious works that leave commentary behind are the best realized. In “Reef,” he utilizes old, coiled telephone cords and cables of all stripes to evoke an aquatic scene busy with coral, anemones, fish, and more. If there’s a point — say, about what plastics are doing to the oceans — the technical dazzle overrides it.
Quiet presence, raw emotion
Kim Bernard’s sculptures often involve balls, sometimes balls you can play with. Her new show at Boston Sculptors Gallery revolves around “Wave Line,” made with scores of lead sinkers strung from the ceiling. It has a quiet presence, and in motion, if you set the balls pushing one to the next, it’s strikingly soothing to watch.
On the wall, Bernard has arrayed red and black ceramic balls into graphics of patterns made by hydrogen atoms. The balls gather and disperse symmetrically, and these pieces have a grace similar to “Wave Line,” suggesting that structure underlies all matter and movement.
Such orderliness is directly disputed by the second show at Boston Sculptors. Donna Dodson spotlights a single, 50-inch-tall walnut sculpture of a hippo-woman hybrid, “The Mighty Hippo.” She stands erect, a woman’s body over a hippo’s feet, with her giant hippo mouth opening upward in what must be an almighty bellow.
Dodson is a sculptor of idols, woman-beasts who blend regal formality with wildness. Several smaller pieces are on display in the gallery’s window, but “The Mighty Hippo” stands alone, as she should, and her wildness is more in the raw emotion she expresses than in her stolid animal nature. Is it grief? Rage? Glory? Whatever it is, it’s potent.
FEDERICO URIBE Objects in a Mirror
At: Adelson Galleries Boston,
520 Harrison Ave., through June 29. 617-832-0633,
KIM BERNARD Spherical Harmonics
DONNA DODSON Silent Scream
At: Boston Sculptors Gallery,
486 Harrison Ave., through June 22. 617-482-7781, www.bostonsculptors.com