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Entering a territory of titillating intangibles

“Winter Weight” by Dana Clancy.

“Winter Weight” by Dana Clancy.

When designing the Museum of Fine Arts’s Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard a few years back, Foster + Partners architects probably didn’t envision the floor in taffy pink. But painter Dana Clancy has, in her show at Alpha Gallery. Her mirage-like paintings of museums entice, tease, and baffle.

Clancy has been painting art institutions for years; in this show, she ramps up the degree of complexity. Many museums are settings for imaginative leaps; hers are stand-ins for the imagination.

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She transforms vitrines, windows, the glass surrounding the MFA’s courtyard, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s greenhouse into mirrors and lenses. Images bounce and bend, rippling through and transforming familiar places into enigmas.

“That Over This” depicts the installation of Dale Chihuly’s “Lime Green Icicle Tower” in the MFA’s courtyard, which we view from atop a staircase. The glass edge of the stairway’s guardrail cuts a seam of light across the space. A woman sits on the steps below; we see only the edge of her hip, but her ghostly reflection in the glass anchors the scene. When a ghost is the anchor, we’re in a territory of titillating intangibles.

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The pink floor complements the sugary Popsicle-glow of the glass sculpture, cordoned off and surrounded with red-topped scissor-lifts. The grand glass walls in the background contain veils and layers: interlaced grids, the reflection of the installation, glimpses of walls and doorways in the wing beyond. Spaces and images intermingle, as they do in memory.

In “Fall Feeling,” a compressed view of a Harvard Art Museums gallery, both space and time morph. Sky mirrored repeatedly from a window reads as summery midday, hazy afternoon, and — upside down in a corner — twilight. Outside comes in; reflection is as palpable as reality, if slipperier.

Ordinarily, we parse experience to distinguish art from actuality, ricochets of light from visions in the mind’s eye. Clancy collapses the distinctions, and invites us into a world of fancy and surprise.

DANA CLANCY: Sightlines

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At Alpha Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through April 5. 617-536-4465, www.aphagallery.com

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.
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