What's Happening in East Bay Art 

Our critics weigh in on local art.

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 this week. Hundreds of locals threw down at least $25 to be judged and juried by ArtForum editor Michael Wilson, who cuts all but a handful of photos, installations, and drawings by eleven entrants. 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. Wright took two days to set up her two pieces, because she "didn't have the math right." 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. Reception: January 19, 6 p.m. (Through February 26 at 550 Second St., Oakland; ProArtsGallery.org or 510-763-4361.)

Larry Stefl, John Toki, and Pamela Stefl -- Art dealer Stephen Headley finishes strong with this final exhibit at his six-year-old Osceola Gallery. Pamela Stefl and John Toki dominate a tiny, 700-square-foot gallery with more than a dozen abstract paintings and sculptures using very novel, weighty techniques. Stefl recently learned clay monoprinting, a hypnotic method that can generate watercolors without the appearance of brushstrokes. First, she fashions large flat slabs of wet, pigmented clay, then lays sheets of fiberglass paper over it and uses a rolling pin to push the fiberglass into the clay and soak up the pigment. When she lifts the sheet off the slab like a paper towel off a wet countertop, she has a colorful negative of the clay's face, which dries to enthralling effect. Her forty-by-sixty-inch "Glass" is bright, watery red, blue, and white geometries shot through the smooth warping of what looks like, yup, stained glass. Meanwhile, Toki remains famous for giant clay sculptures straight from the Archaean period. He spikes Osceola's hardwood floors with quizzical, glyphic stalagmites weighing in at more than a ton. (Through January 14 by appointment at 4053 Harlan St., Suite 305, Emeryville; OsceolaGallery.net or 510-658-1440.)

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.)

Virtual Intervention -- Marauding foot-size video-game ants crash a birthday party at Superman's Fortress of Solitude this week in this art exhibit at 33 Grand by David Hamill and Shawn Smith. Crucible-trained artist Smith fashions eight ant pirates from basswood glued to Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG)-welded steel cores. Weighing as much as a .50 caliber handgun, the four-pound monsters balance baseball bats and birthday cakes, candy and party hats, and even the birthday table in their mandibles as they dissemble the festive scene. Not to be outdone, David Hamill hacks and crashes the architectural drawing program SketchUp in pursuit of three million polygon supradimensional structures. Ever seen a CAT scan of the World Trade Center mid-implosion? Hamill's pencil on paper prints look just as riveting. Up above, four huge, suspended cardboard installations add a 3-D angle to Smith's ethics. As big as eight feet wide and five feet tall, the crystalline formations perfectly complement the comic scene below. (Through January 29 at 33 Grand Ave. Oakland; 33Grand.com)

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