The sight and smell of fresh jelly doughnuts, cherry pies, and other fruit-laden pastries can evoke a flood of anticipation. Such goodies were served at the opening of Kathryn Parker Almanas’s show “Pre-Existing Condition” at Yellow Peril Gallery in Providence. But the artwork — also made with jelly, fruit, and dough — is enough to turn your stomach, drawing a precarious balance between attraction and repulsion.
Almanas utilizes the edibles, along with nylon tights, to create models of guts and surgical interventions in large-scale photographs that in ways eerily recall Dutch still life paintings and their finger wagging about how fleeting life is.
In “Append” and “Digestive,” she stuffs the stockings with dough and stains them with glistening red fruit juice; they bend and fold like intestines. My favorite piece is “Bloatation,” for which Almanas filled a cheesecloth sack with dough and tapioca, which seeps out of its casing in little gelatinous drops. Others, such as “Vestige,” are less effective — the balance tips too much toward carnage.
The artist heightens our imagination with the seduction of pastries and the gore of viscera, but sensation is merely a gateway. Using food as a stand-in for flesh, she raises questions about desire and survival. Auto-immune diseases, she points out in her artist’s statement, are conditions in which the body consumes itself. Even a healthy body is in a constant state of growth and decay. Almanas moves to remind us just how corporeal we are.
She also exhibits several collages that conflate flesh with food. For “Fig. 104,” she takes a page from an anatomy book depicting the innards of a woman’s abdomen, and uses suturing thread to sew images of pie crust over sections of digestive tract. Like her photos, this piece nods to feminist art, and the conflation of the female body with objects of desire, but in a pointedly comical manner. In other works she wittily investigates our tendency to valorize those in the medical profession — but that could be a theme for a whole new show.
Summer is the season for group shows. “Why Am I So Awkward” at Steven Zevitas Gallery homes in on an aesthetic that characterizes many exhibitions there. One wall has been given over to Peter Opheim’s portraits of odd clay figures he builds in his studio, such as “Untitled (#207),” a giant head made of stacked rings of blue and red, perched on two stubby little feet and dangling two fleshy pink arms like uncooked hotdogs.
Opheim’s loose brushwork seems to make space for and caress his misfits. Chuck Webster’s often smudgy paint application expresses much in his untitled abstraction, as do the broad curves and creases around a big white proboscis lodged painfully between two yellow planes, and hanging over a sea of royal blue. Shapes seep and sneak from behind a curvilinear form in scruffy beige. It’s delightfully unsettling. Then there’s David X Levine’s “She Knows Me So Well,” another abstraction in colored pencil, in which a triangle and two jutting arcs creep shyly from the bottom into a vibrant field of blue, as if undeserving but happy to be there.
Summer breezes from the 20th century
ACME Fine Art left Newbury Street in June and has taken up temporary lodging on the third floor at 450 Harrison Ave., where it has crammed mostly onto one wall a lovely, breezy exhibit of 20th-century work created at New England summer art colonies. Highlights include George McNeil’s fierce, terrific “No Nicety,” a roiling portrait of a green-faced figure, eyes violent gashes of blue and orange, and Hans Hofmann’s commanding “Polynesian I (Small Version),” depicting a bold, squatting figure in sharp angles, powerful gestures, and tangy colors.
On the softer side, Edwin Dickinson’s watercolor “Provincetown Boatyard” was made with a light, confident hand in generous washes of dusky hues. Defining contours with a pencil, Dickinson monumentalized the thrusting hull of a rowboat in dry dock.
Why am I so Awkward?
At: Steven Zevitas Gallery,
450 Harrison Ave., through Aug. 24. 617-778-5265, www.stevenzevitasgallery.com
Summer Salon 2013
At: Acme Fine Art, 450 Harrison Ave., through Aug. 17.
Cate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com.