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Our critics review local visual arts exhibitions.

The Allstar Show — The Boontling Gallery has just opened its latest show, featuring the "very best" of its two years in existence. It's a motley collection, with two pieces each from twelve artists. Crystal Morey's include 3-D wall hangings of a naked, potbellied woman sitting atop a Wally Byam-esque trailer home and another perched upon a hollow tree; Josh Keyes has painted nature scenes with a touch of Escher (e.g., a jungle cat pacing the inner surface of a wheel of grass, the opposite side of which is a sidewalk). You'll also find the heavy influence of graphic novel stylings in works by Loren Purcell, Vincent Perea, and Jon Nagel. Adam 5100's gloomy but somehow fluid renderings of the basements and the understairs of buildings are surprisingly arresting, and John Casey's meticulous mutant beings in jackets and ties may disturbingly remind you of a coworker or boss. (Through December 17 at 4224 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; or 510-295-8881.)

American Carnival Portraits — Linda Kramer's large-scale C-prints of carnivalgoers seem somehow familiar, even if you haven't seen her work before. They are technically adept and visually interesting, but not much different from works by Larry Kramer or Nan Goldin (with a little less drama and a lot less violence). The photos feature random attendees at carnivals from Concord to Twinsburg, Ohio, and go far to transform the usually anonymous crowd into individualized figures. Against a background of blurred carnival neon, the portraits give great attention to the faces and bodies of their subjects. Nevertheless, as these subjects seem to have been given time to put their best personas forward, the images show viewers more about how people want to be seen than some deep story of who they "are." This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of these works, especially in the daring toughness of "Las Niñas" and the coy humor in the face of "Carny." (Through January 2 at 713 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda; or 510-205-9793.)

The Art of Survival — Abco's current show features six artists, each with their take on the "art of survival." Sarah Filley takes the theme most literally: her pieces are fully utilitarian, and are more obviously about survival than art. Included are a fuzzy, blue, Kelvalite-backed blanket embroidered with the FEMA seal ("National Security Blanket"), evacuation route maps, and a well-researched, fully functional emergency kit, which you can purchase for $75. Alexander Sarkis Abajian takes the opposite tack, creating guns out of glass: The art completely trumps the utility of these fragile renditions of firearms. Other pieces are visually and conceptually fascinating, especially those by Victor Cartagena — sketches of human figures on canvases painted to resemble brown shipping paper and featuring such architectural elements as rotor-driven wings and leather harnesses — and Kate Eric, a two-person team whose paintings manage to be both muddy and intricately detailed at the same time. (Through December 10 at 3135 Filbert St., Oakland; or 415-999-9150.)

Junk Pirate — The Rowan Morrison Gallery is a bit farther off Telegraph than most of the galleries featured in Oakland's monthly Art Murmur, but nevertheless it draws a crowd. The current show fills the small room with framed objects from your childhood: Dungeons and Dragons dice; several generations of Miss Scarlet cards from the game of Clue; photos of someone who might be your Aunt Millie, circa 1977; a series featuring the evolution of the Kenner Luke Skywalker action figure; and 78 Kool-Aid points. The fuzzy line between art and nostalgia, product placement and historical preservation, fuzzes even further at the shelves of videogame consoles made for systems from Atari to Xbox, covering three decades. Furthermore, all objects are for sale. There's something both pleasing and disconcerting about seeing the objects of your formative years under glass and prepared for wall mounting. Still, I expect artist Pete Glover will find his share of buyers. (Through December 24 at 330 40th St., Oakland; or 510-384-5344.)

New Works at Swarm Gallery — In this group show, Michael Cutlip's work consists of mixed media — pencil sketches, magazine cutouts, and dashes of spray paint — arranged on panels. Occasionally he gets the colors right ("Isolation" has a nice juxtaposition of reds and watery greens), but these pieces seem to have emerged more from the artist's boredom than from inspiration. Gage Opdenbrouw has certainly nailed the monochromatic winterscape of some northern clime, although the relentlessly gray palette mostly reminds us why we live in California. Still, Mark Baugh-Sasaki's sculptures, inspired by abandoned industrial buildings, are both awkward and elegant in their homage to the fumblings of man's attempts to force nature into use. And Linda Braz' "An Extraordinary Pastiche of Fragility" — a loose weave of white silk burned at random intersections — is beautifully delicate, while the black of the charred threads gives the piece a wounded quality that elicits an edge of sympathy and pity that creeps closer to sublimity than to beauty. (Through December 31 at 560 2nd St., Oakland; or 510-839-2787.)


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    Our critics review local visual arts exhibitions.
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    Our critics review local visual arts exhibitions.
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