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Our critic reviews local visual art exhibitions.

The Art of Living Black 2006 Group Show -- More than a hundred artists ponied up $80 to show at this unjuried group exhibit with the feel of a swap meet. Eyeballs can't help but stick to Shawn Weeden's playful, orange-drenched "Boogie Woogie." Weeden uses nine square feet of interwoven line lattices that are slightly offset to scramble retinal signals until the thing vibrates on the wall. Bright colors in bold forms also fuse with a graphic novelist's layout and design sensibility in Malik Seneferu's "Omnipotent," where twin tapestries of FedEx arrows frame a cityscape dominated by a male silhouette. Then there's Casper Banjo's mixed-media piece "Confrontation," in which the artist hides Spy vs. Spy eyeballs in an otherwise competent piece of MOMA-bound abstract art. Keep in mind that the cream of the TAOLB 2006 crop is scattered throughout ten other East Bay galleries. (Through March 19 at the Richmond Arts Center, 2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond; www.therac.org or 510-620-6772.)

Building City Beautiful: Mayor Mott's Oakland -- Century-old photographs, news clippings, telegraph transcripts, and book excerpts tell a tale of corruption, hope, and fire in early-20th-century Oakland this week at the Oakland Public Library. Timed to coincide with the centennial of Mayor Frank K. Mott's reign (1905-1915) and the San Francisco earthquake and fire (1906), the ironically named exhibit leaves a lot of questions unanswered about the place that was once called the "Carthage of the Pacific." What happened to all the money Mott secured for the city's residents when he took back the waterfront and port from private interests? How did a place built on "culture and commerce" end up lagging behind a neighbor that burnt to the ground, discharging 165,000 smoky refugees? Building City Beautiful shows a new city hall, new parks, and a mantra-like sense of civic spirit made more upsetting by its present, palpable lack. (Through April 15 at the Oakland Main Library, 125 14th St., 2nd floor; OaklandLibrary.org or 510-238-3134.)

Claim the World of Art as Our Domain -- Lessons on home infiltration, social skills, and the death of fun punctuate a powerful, once-a-year juried show at the ProArts gallery in Oakland. Hundreds of locals threw down at least $25 to be judged and juried by ArtForum editor Michael Wilson. Photographer Morgan Konn breaks into houses, puts on the residents' clothes, then takes broody portraits of herself posing in their space. Meanwhile, Shannon Wright's clean line drawings of wearable machines look absurdly implausible except for the autistic precision that goes into the drafts. Behind her work, CCA student Scotty Enderle's black disco ball rotates on the floor like a dark, collapsed star; the perfect metaphor for postholiday malaise. (Through February 26 at 550 2nd St., Oakland; ProArtsGallery.org or 510-763-4361.)

Dreaming California: Ruth-Marion Baruch, Bill Owens, and Larry Sultan -- The West Coast is not yet settled. Wild hills abut SFO airport. Coyotes can still be seen in North Beach. (Scientists have actually tracked them crossing the Golden Gate bridge late at night from Marin County.) The coyote has long been known as a trickster demigod; legend says it can take any form in order to divert unsuspecting people from their true path. The coyote can put you in a dream trance that you can never wake up from. Dreaming California conjures some of the dream states endemic to this wild state, and in this case it's hippies, porn stars, and the denizens of suburbia. The most zonked-out are the porn stars, who appear hollow-eyed and acid-eaten in three-foot-square chromogenic prints by Larry Sultan. Next are Ruth-Marion Baruch's hippies, who sing, protest, and generally lie about Haight-Ashbury circa 1967 until the myth of a new order dies. But then Bill Owens continues the thread with his shots of mundane '80s cul-de-sacs and '70s living rooms. What fills your house and waking hours when you live in the desert at the end of Western civilization? Linoleum and golfing, evidently. Time, poverty, and crime seem to stop in the 'burbs. But it's just another California fable in this excellent show. (Through May 21 at the Berkeley Art Museum; BAMPFA.berkeley.edu or 510-642-0808.)

Lewis & Clark: The Corps of Discovery -- East Bay punks can't compete with the original outcasts of this tragic kingdom. Tattoo Archive takes us back to a time when face tattoos on chicks were hot and faux-hawks could get you killed. The little ink-hole on San Pablo doesn't look like your traditional tattoo shop, what with all the bookshelves and evidence of scholarship. And it isn't. Owner C.W. Eldridge is a Berkeley tattooing legend, writer, and scholar. In commemoration of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, he threw together a little exhibit of Indian ink on the south wall. (Through July 31 at 2804 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; TattooArchive.com or 510-548-5895.)

Lost And Found -- Forlorn zombie ceramics and shattered cityscape sketches commemorate one year at 4224 Telegraph with Boontling Gallery curators Derek Weisberg and Mike Simpson. One year later, Weisberg is selling pieces on both coasts with his consistent style of broody, heavy-lidded, usually bald male ceramic figures. Weighing in at eight pounds apiece and usually denoted by their punched-out eye sockets and street-kicked skin tones of browns and blues, Weisberg's figurines induce both compassion and repulsion, much like the hobos they resemble. Simpson also enthralls with ugliness. Just back from Mexico City with a bunch of small sketches that tend to isolate one or two elements from urban scenes, Simpson obsesses over the window panes on a hillside favela, or power lines choking the sky like wet hair. The effect is abstract, cluttered, engaging, and unique. (Through February 26 at 4224 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; BoontlingGallery.com or 510-295-8881)

Skull -- Little kids play with the icon of death and come off a bit naive in this irreverent, fun exhibit at Rock Paper Scissors. Jake Hout gets the most attention in the room of three artists with his large-format photoreal blue-tinged craniums featuring jagged bone joints. The Oakland artist is financed by an advertising mogul, and the work reflects that approachable, iconic-skull sensibility that seems light years away from the annihilation worship in Summer Bell's pyramid of broken bottles, razor blades, and skull charms. The backlit effigies to the excess of the Marquis de Sade, Charles Bukowski, Mozart, and other inebriated creators look like something you might find in a middle-school locker. The messy bits are also absent from Nate Moore's three small clinical sketches of animal skulls from road accidents. A bit underwhelming next to his four-foot-tall papier-mâché skull installation looming over the whole show. (Through February 24 at 2278 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; RPSCollective.com or 510-238-9171.)

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