In the Galleries 

Our critics review local visual arts exhibitions.

Bridge to Sakai — One of Berkeley's sister cities is the Japanese port town of Sakai, known for samurai sword production and tea ceremonies. The Berkeley Art Center is hosting a group show of several of Sakai's most prominent artists — some of whom are official Living National Treasures of Japan. There are works both mediocre and lovely in this show. Yoko Yasumatsu's transformation of wood into fruits, flowers, and origami boxes is charming — her brightly colored and gold-starred lotus filled with unshelled almonds is especially delightful. Kazuaki Nobata's use of oils to produce landscapes of texture, depth, and dimension that seem both familiar and otherworldly (a sort of Japanese Middle Earth) are captivating, and Hotei Nagata's calligraphy — both a tribute to the venerable tradition of the art and a mirroring of the history of cave paintings and hieroglyphics — are studiously playful. Yet Yoshiyuki Kitada's wooden sandals and "Umbrellas" are without compelling interest, and Shozaburo Kawai's monochromatic Sakuhin series fails to draw in the viewer. (Through August 18 at 1275 Walnut St., Berkeley; BerkeleyArtCenter.org or 510-644-6893.)

Chester Street — Julie Placencia's photography features the residents of the buildings on Chester Street in Oakland — including children and dogs — posed in front of their domiciles. She used this project as a way to venture into parts of her community she had not known, meeting her subjects and introducing them to each other. The artist's statement includes a brief backstory for each of the people pictured, some of whom have since died or moved. Placencia also presents us with a couch that was given to her by the family of Mrs. Jones of Chester Street when its owner passed away, as well as a collection of family photos, certificates, and newspaper clippings framed and hanging above the sofa. She invites us to sit upon it and listen to an audio sampling of sounds from the street. In so doing, Placencia asks us to imagine ourselves part of this community, in these houses, among these families, even if all we ever know of them is these photos as we sip our Mama Buzz espresso on Jones' couch. (Through August 31 at Mama Buzz Gallery, 2318 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; MamaBuzzCafe.com or 510-465-4073.)

Demolition or "Civic Pride Through Civic Improvement" — This exhibition at the Oakland Main Library commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of urban renewal in Oakland. From Governor Earl Warren's Redevelopment Act of 1945 to 2005 proposals to improve the waterfront, the exhibit demonstrates that dry mix of hope, financial incentive, competing senses of enfranchisement and disenfranchisement, and ultimate discouragement that characterizes so many not-quite-realized grand urban projects. (Through September 15 at 125 14th St., Oakland; OaklandLibrary.org or 510-328-3222.)

Nancy Flores — No, you haven't walked into an exhibit of Jack Vettriano's lesser-known works. Java Rama Coffee Shop is showing Nancy Flores' paintings, which demonstrate her fascination with glamour and a dancer's appreciation for the svelte and muscular female form. The subjects of the paintings fill the frames but never look directly at the viewer, thus drawing your attention to a well-formed back, the trim outlines of a tiny belly, or the streamlined shape of a deceptively powerful calf. (Through August 31 at 1333 Park St., Alameda; 510-523-2116.)

Interiors/Exteriors — Esteban Sabar has again connected three artists by the vaguest of thematics. Tracy West's works are an abstract mixture of concrete, plaster and wood: thickly textured canvases that are not-quite monochromatic, vaguely earthy surfaces calling to mind sandstone caves or forest floors remembered more as visceral impressions than landscapes. Some of Vivian Prinsloo's works — like her "Beau Bay" and "Imperial Kamill," two foresty views of horse silhouettes breaking through the fog — might border on the cheesy, but the fractalization of light and sky seen through skeletal suburban trees and telephone poles in "Fragment" and "The Crow" is something else altogether. Scott Courtenay-Smith's images of skewed and dreamily indistinct city streets are dominated by light-saturated sky blues married to the rusty-brown of concrete or adobe. They are always almost interesting works — Courtenay-Smith just misses the opportunity for true originality in perspective and content by slipping in a little too much of the expected. (Through September 3 at 480 23rd St., Oakland; EstebanSabar.com or 510-444-7411.)

National Juried Craft Exhibition — Art and craft have long had a troubled relationship, but the current ACCI Gallery show highlights artists who have done well to negotiate an understanding. The most successful are those who use surprising materials to form their pieces — media that the less imaginative of us might think mere detritus. Lorraine Oller's vases are braided scraps of maps. The blue of printed water and the beige of landmass are ground for skittering black and red lines dodging over and under the braiding of the paper, bits of place names peeking through. Jane Woolverton's "L'été" is an airy triple curtain of laced-together plastic six-pack holders, splashed with bright summery colors; it wouldn't look out of place in your beach house in the Hamptons. Cynthia Jensen's "Nests" are graceful pieces, steel twigs outlining the idea of a bowl, and Clayton Bain's "Surf Table" and "Fish Table" are concrete- and cherry-colored woodworks that are practical, beautiful, and quirky. (Through August 18 at 1652 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; ACCIGallery.com or 510-843-2527.)

Summer Breeze in Paint — The two-year-old Artscape is located in a small house with a large backyard. This "gallery and sculpture garden" doubles as a high-end art shop, and thus leans toward interesting but largely unchallenging works. Leslie Safarik's clay cats are scattered about the place, as are Mitch La Plante's oversize glass fruits and vegetables and Archie Held's $8,000 fountains. There are also nice surprises, such as John Oldani's found-object art, and David Mudgett's steel spiders. (Through August 9 at 1161 Alpine Rd., Walnut Creek; Art-ScapeGallery.com or 925 944 1544.)

Thread — In Johannson Projects' current show, eight artists explore thread. Through this seemingly simple concept emerge complex, rich, and highly divergent works. Devorah Sperber, using math and magic, transforms a panel of thread spools into a refracted homage to Grant Wood's "American Gothic." Kathryn Spence turns a teddy bear inside out and creates an ghostly snowy owl. The dangling threads of Tucker Schwarz' sparse embroideries of residential streets evoke the unfinished quality of memory and suburban experiments. Alex Case's pieces, with their drab industrial-color palettes, use the layering of fabric and rudimentary stitching to produce a soft depth and density that call to mind the most endearing of dystopic cityscapes. Katie Lewis produces a map of her physiological fluxes with deep red pins and thread, creating vaguely figurative thickets stretched across the pinpricks of her maladies. This is a show both cohesive and diverse — a happy update to your grandmother's textile creations. (Through August 25 at 2300 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; JohanssonProjects.com or 510-444-9140.)

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