Modern Times 

Five artists analyze the Urban Matrix.

Contemporary art thrives in dynamic city life, so the tone of this group show at Chandra Cerrito Gallery is unsurprisingly downtown (or, perhaps, considering the gallery location, uptown): traffic, high-rises, construction, deserted spaces, and the semiological, semi-illogical collage of street life. Urban Matrix is an eclectic show that doesn't exceed the sum of its parts and, in addition, is curiously devoid of any human presence. But the work of artists Steve Bird, Kathryn Kenworth, Daniel Nevers, Robert Tomlinson, and Tyson Kent Washburn is innovative, well-crafted, and worth viewing.

Bird's panoramic pre-9/11 photograph "NYC/WTC" is the largest piece in the show, forming a tent-size cylinder that one enters through a small doorway. Taken from the top of the World Trade Center 2, it presents a breathtaking vista of Manhattan's skyline, the East River, the bridges, the side of the North Tower, and, of course, part of the roof of the South Tower. (Incidentally, its rampart bears the signatures of funambulist Philippe Petit with the August 4, 1974, date of his high-wire stroll, the subject of a recent documentary film, and of "human fly" George Willig, who climbed up its side on May 25, 1977.) It's a melancholy subject now, but the photograph remains nevertheless exhilarating, and, for the acrophobic, challenging to behold. Kenworth takes a more intimate and conceptual view of modern life with her realistic renderings of recycling-outfitted pickup trucks set against blank backgrounds, a cartoonishly proportioned cardboard model (statue?) of one of these trucks, and a model of clustered cardboard boxes full of recycling-ready cardboard. Nevers plays with construction materials: his wall of stacked cinder blocks, "Cinderfella," with its door cutout, is held together by nylon straps, pitifully inadequate in an earthquake, and perhaps a reminder of human pratfalls (whether or not its title refers to Jerry Lewis's eponymous film); "Fallacy (Well Hung)," a knotted plastic tube from which concrete oozes, is absolutely clear about its anatomical referents, with perhaps a nod to Bruce Nauman's "Bound to Fail" crossed arms. Tomlinson prints black-and-white photographs of abstract patterns, some of which resemble hieroglyphics, with photogram elements added during exposure; he then paints squiggly shapes on them, creating a curious hybrid space between flatness and depth: Cubist graffiti. Washburn takes black-and-white photographs of Peninsula walls, fences, and empty parking lots — "the manmade wilderness;" composition and lighting infuse these austere subjects with mystery and beauty. Urban Matrix runs through March 28 at Chandra Cerrito Gallery (25 Grand Ave., Oakland). ChandraCerrito.com/ccc or 415-577-7537.

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