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Our critics review local visual arts exhibitions.

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 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." (Through April 15 at the Oakland Main Library, 125 14th St., 2nd floor; or 510-238-3134.)

Building the New East Span — What a weak title for such a huge, overwhelming exhibit. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission's second floor in downtown Oakland hosts more than three dozen large B&W candids from the making of the bay's new bridge. This $5.5 billion demigod of a suspension bridge calls upon the forces of 310-ton piledrivers and bearded men so rugged their appearance roughs up the eye. Prepare yourself for smoking liquid nitrogen cooling tanks and 300-foot-high shots of the largest precast concrete bridge segments ever constructed. Photographer Joseph A. Blum makes sure to highlight the men and women on the other side of the guardrail, including some of the famed welders responsible for the core of the 530-foot, self-anchoring bridge segment (and the subsequent FBI investigation). Largely dismissed as a shameful boondoggle, the Bay Bridge project is repositioned by Blum in the epic, nature-conquering frame it deserves. (Through May 31 at 101 8th St., Oakland; 510-817-5773.)

Everything I Know ... I Learned in the Movies — Blurry, pixelated portraits of Princess Diana, Bette Midler, Monica Lewinsky, and other tragic chicks line the halls of Emeryville's Muse Media Center in this pretentious, navel-gazing photography exhibit by artist and filmmaker Ann P. Meredith, who took pictures of her television while living in a dingy hotel in Manhattan between 1994 and 2002. Broke and paranoid about getting stabbed, she became obsessed with watching television and snapping photos of whatever image had some resonant subtext for her. She justifies their lack of focus as a BS comment on society's blah blah blah. Photography is already too easy, but taking clever pictures of one's TV crosses some futile line. Why bother? Reception: Thursday, April 13, 5-8 p.m. (Through May 31 at Muse Media Center, 4221 Hollis St., Emeryville; or 510-655-1111.)

The Kennedy Years— Walnut Creek scores an exclusive West Coast showing of photos from the 1960 campaign and first years in office of John F. Kennedy. Timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of nearby JFK University, but too small to fit at the Pleasant Hill campus, this exhibition sprawls over 4,000 square feet, featuring more than three dozen black-and-white prints and a few color ones too. Former Marine and Korean War photographer Stanley Tretick gained access to Kennedy on the campaign trail through United Press International, followed by White House work for Look magazine. The wild campaign photos are as candid as the staged Look covers, likely because JFK had the unique power of always looking candid. (Through April 16 at the Bedford Gallery, 1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek; or 925-205-1417.)

Monoprint Show— Monoprint instructor Jacalyn Kildare uses twenty students of different skills to demonstrate the versatility of the monoprint technique in this 22-piece show in and around the hallways of the Shadelands Center. Monoprint involves painting on a piece of Plexiglas, laying a piece of paper over it and then using an intaglio paper press to make the paper soak up the color, creating exactly "one print" of whatever is on the Plexiglas. Pamela Howett plays pink, yellow and white water lilies off of deep blues and blacks for absinthe-like hallucinatory shimmering in Water Lily 2. And Pamela Miller's Cascade instantly evokes the white rushing of a waterfall despite a lack of cliffs or vegetation; spatters of color stand in for concrete illustration. (Through April 30 at Shadelands Arts Center, 111 North Wiget Ln., Walnut Creek; or 925-943-5846.)

New Works— Oakland's Pro Arts gallery gets a new neighbor this month in the form of the Swarm Gallery, presenting professional yet innovative local stuff in its first show, "New Works." South-facing floor-to-ceiling windows, airy, vaulted ceilings with exposed white beams, and a stained, waxed concrete floor welcome visitors into the front showroom, where the work is equally easy on the eye. Michael McDermott's thrilling oil-on-canvas "Blast" series embodies violence and spectacle, while his tinted urethane sculptures riot with the color and chaos of a picked booger. Berkeley MFA grad student John Herschend deliberately underwhelms with his intriguing trademark still lifes. He uses oil and galkyd on panel to depict mundane life that's falling apart at the brush stroke. Ryan Reynolds remixes the famed Bay Bridge box truss, cargo container, and freeway overpass shapes to capture the de facto abstract art among us. (Through April 28 at 560 2nd St., Oakland; or 510-839-2787.)

Project: Catch-22/Still Present Pasts— The Pro Arts gallery gets its war on this month with two heavy takes on human carnage. Outgoing curator and inveterate populist Christian Frock's final exhibit "Project: Catch-22" arranges more than forty letter-size depictions of war's effect on human beings. Lots of requisite mixed-media explosions and blood here, but nothing actually shocking or wholly original, save for Rob Prideaux' installation photo of a comic wedding between Hussein and Bush on a pile of bones, Bibles, and barrels of oil. Korean war victims get their say with "Still Present Pasts," featuring at least three dozen pieces chock-full of history lessons, archival photos, and film. Barefoot refugees cross icy rivers while starving kids stare at vintage cameras. ("C-22" through April 23; "SPP" through April 16 at 550 Second St., Oakland; or 510-763-4361.)

Visual Alchemy II — Beat-up telephone booths and giant squid emerge as edgy subjects for tricky print-makers in this six-artist group show highlighting the best in East Bay print shop work. The Oakland Art Gallery gives each artist lots of breathing room for some really big pieces, the best of which include works by Christine Eudoxie and Barbara Foster. Eudoxie presents a poster-size photo-real shot of a corroding public pay phone, utility pole, and wall, emphasizing the jagged chaotic shapes of uncontrolled entropy. Meanwhile Foster hijacks the look of those boring dental-office paintings of whales and sea life for a much more disturbing story. (Through April 22; Artists' talk April 20 at 199 Kahn's Alley, Oakland. 510-637-0395.)


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