A Timely Miscellany 

Shows at Manna, Roscoe Ceramic, and Mercury 20 galleries worth checking out soon.

A Miscellany of Timeless Works is a retrospective of Mary Curtis Ratcliff's work from 1976 to 2004; its ironic yet serious title reflects her embrace of polarities: "elegance and banality, archaic and modern, sober and comic, sacred and profane." Her standing "goddess figure" sculptures, similar to dressmaker's mannequins, and her suspended abstract sculptures, suggestive of articles of clothing or jewelry, explore gender identity by using materials once considered too industrial or too feminine for "serious" art.

"Wind Wings," made from strips of shimmering fabric (vinyl?), evokes capes and scarves, and symbolizes freedom, as does "Amelia," with its central disc flanked by silvery pendant wings, undoubtedly referring to the pilot Amelia Earhart (with her Icarus-like fall into the Pacific treated without patriarchal condescension). Iconic figure sculptures like "Vestal" and "Fashion Statement" contrast cylindrical forms and industrial fencing with the "distaff" materials of weaving and plaiting. The wreath-shaped "Nook" and "Spirit Vessel" suggest sunflowers, crowns, halos, and the cycle of life, while two paintings, "Shall We Dance" and "Take Back Your Mink," featuring faceless coloring-book fashion plates, rebuke the Stepfordization of little girls. A photocollage, "Grand Basin and Ggantija," alludes to a Maltese temple from the fourth millennium BCE, when goddesses ruled the earth. Artist's talk on Saturday, January 21, at 4 p.m.; performance at 5 p.m. Through February 11 at Mercury 20 Gallery (475 25th St., Oakland). 510-701-4620 or MercuryTwenty.com.

Dolls are the subject of Amber Aguirre, too, but hardly the cute type. Made in faux raku ceramic with glazes and stains (here dubbed "naked fauxku"), Aguirre's mechanistic poppets serve as vehicles for satire. The crumbling tot in "Baby Nation Building" plays with blocks that spell out "plutonium"; the Herculean toddler in "Baby Nation's Wet Dream" plays with grenades, his penis transformed into a cannon. A series of baby heads is less overtly political, but equally mordant. Who are you calling babies? Out of the Mouth of Babes runs through January 29 at Roscoe Ceramic Gallery (473 25th St., Oakland). 415-515-3174 or RoscoeCeramicGallery.com.

It was a bad week for Denver's Clyfford Still paintings, but presumably nothing untoward will befall local painters of abstract landscapes. Mark Lightfoot depicts geological-looking features in a palette dominated by browns, grays, and beiges in "In Flight," "In Times Past," and the four "Life of Forms" paintings. Linn Thygesen's untitled paintings are subdued in color, too. Her boldly simplified cloudscapes are well painted, but her gestural abstractions are more provocative. The Life of Forms runs through January 28 at Manna Gallery (473 25th St., Oakland). 510-282-2335 or MannaGallery.com

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