Danny Goodwin and Terry Conrad make art so different, you might not think their work belongs together.
But independent curator Liz Blum saw a parallel: Goodwin is a trickster photographer; Conrad is a shaman printmaker. Each goes through an elaborate process to create mystifying art. Blum has paired them in the wry, thoughtful "Decoys and Devices" at the New Art Center.
With works he calls decoys, Goodwin foils assumptions about everyday objects and space. He photographs a log or a roll of duct tape from several directions, slices and pastes together the photos to mimic a log or duct tape, and photographs that. You'll mistake "Duct Tape Decoy" for the real thing, until you look closely.
The blue tool in "3D Screwdriver (Invisible Layer)" looks more like a 3-D-printed faux-screwdriver, but that one is real. Goodwin coated it in blue. It appears to magically float before its background, thanks to more trickery. The artist mounts his screwdriver on a rod we cannot see to make it float.
Goodwin uses photography and 3-D printing to question our expectations of reality, and like a good magician, fools us over and over again.
Conrad, on the other hand, is as down to earth as they come, and transparent about process. He makes inks out of nuts and minerals. He builds his presses from whatever comes to hand, and the presses themselves grow, higgledy-piggledy, into totemic works of art. "Home Press (2)" has ink running through tubes to corrugated cans at the bottom, on which are stacked a rusty metal grid, rocks, layers of plaster and wood, a painted log, and more.
The arrangement of cans determines the print's formal makeup: "Home Press (2)" produces an apparent cluster of single-cell critters wobbling in earthy tones. The print "Untitled (From Eschmann Press)," a gorgeous, diamond-shaped grid, has a stained-glass window quality that's perfect in this gallery, housed in a former church.
Goodwin's more calculated art addresses illusion. Conrad's embraces the uncertainties of making — what materials, curiosity, and invention yield in the hands of a playful master. Pairing them, Blum finds delicious tension among small unknowns, great mysteries, and, most importantly, the viewer's hunger to know.
Nicole Cherubini has always been an expressionistic ceramic artist, leaving voluptuous fingerprints everywhere. But her art is about more than the sensuality of clay. She mashes up ceramic history with contemporary notions about sculpture and painting.
Many of her vessels in "golden specific" at Samson are slip cast from 3-D-printed molds modeled on old Mexican and Iranian pots that may have carried water or had more sacred uses. She glazes them by hand and mounts them on scrappy, DIY pedestals made from plastic buckets, fiberboard, and stacked blocks cast from wooden boxes.
"Althean," then, looks precarious. Three pots cluster on a round platform; a fourth pot perches atop the tallest. The platform sits on stacked blocks. The piece runs with glaze, the only adhesive at work here. For all but the top pot, the glaze has the luminous, drippy quality of sunlit honey.
"Bucket #1, The Red One" makes a stand of a wood stool and two buckets — today's water carriers. But where does the pedestal stop and the art begin? Cherubini tags a clay handle to the outer bucket. A white pot emerges from the inner bucket, and another, spray-painted peachy red, balances on its mouth.
All these works brace utility and the weight of history against luxury and visual heat; they pit handwork against digital work — perfect themes for a ceramic artist standing in an art historical river between yesterday's functional vessels and today's high-end and conceptual art. Cherubini remains a deeply sensual artist, but she is too interested in pushing boundaries to simply dally with pleasure. Instead, she explores what pleasure means by contrasting it with the mundane tools of work.
Boston Sculptors Gallery has two terrific exhibitions by artists who take their materials deep into myth and metaphor.
Nancy Winship Milliken spent time on farms near her home in Western Massachusetts and created works from what she found there. Pieces such as "Field," a great swoosh of hay mounted on the wall, and "Untitled (Horse Chandelier)," a dangling knot of harnesses, feel like a farm speaking its own poetry.
She participated in tasks such as slaughtering fowl. Knowing that imbues "Duck," a spiky-soft grid of feathers, and "North Flower," a suspended sphere of dark goose feathers, with gravity and gratitude.
Andrea Thompson approaches her theme of voyages from within and without. In "Mapping Mars," she recalls 19th-century astronomer Percival Lowell's study of the planet. He believed Mars was studded with evidence of civilization, which he charted and named.
Thompson has salvaged a large, pitted round of rusty steel, and affectionately inked in Lowell's nomenclature. She honors Lowell's vision of Mars, and opens a gateway for ours. In this and other works, Thompson finds in materials such as steel, oak, and wicker a language that can burrow into the dreams of men and women.
DECOYS AND DEVICES
At New Art Center, 61 Washington Park, Newtonville, through Dec. 19. 617-964-3424, www.newartcenter.org
NICOLE CHERUBINI: golden specific
At Samson, 450 Harrison Ave., through Jan. 23. 617-357-7177, www.samsonprojects.com
NANCY WINSHIP MILLIKEN: Postcards From the Field: Contemporary Pastoralism
ANDREA THOMPSON: Bent Meridian: Stories of Unlikely Journeys
At Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Ave., through Dec. 13. 617-482-7781, www.bostonsculptors.com