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Cheap Wine, Free Cheese

Our critics review local visual arts exhibitions.

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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. 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 room 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? (Through May 31 at Muse Media Center, 4221 Hollis St., Emeryville; MuseMediaCenter.com or 510-655-1111.)

Headache — The most creepy gallery show this year goes to the Boontlingers on Telegraph Avenue for this collection of mounted mutant ceramic and mixed-media heads that beg for mercy from a cruel world. Lucien Shapiro uses doll eyes, teeth and tongues, tentacles, cow skeletons, moss, clay, and deer horns to create 21 menacing wall sculptures. These haunting pieces range from one foot in diameter to pin-sized and make all manner of faces including the grimace, the shout, the sneer, and the laugh. John Casey complements Shapiro with "50 Dark Thoughts" using a decapitated ceramic figure mounted below fifty fist-sized brown skulls baked into mean little sneers dotted with pinhole eyes, robot eyes, or no eyes at all. (Through April 30 at 4224 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; BoontlingGallery.com or 707-980-1060.)

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. (Through April 30 at Shadelands Arts Center, 111 North Wiget Ln., Walnut Creek; Arts-Ed.org 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." 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; SwarmStudios.net or 510-839-2787.)

Transpose: The Image & Everyday Life — Obi-Wan Kenobi said not to trust your eyes; they can deceive you. Painter Steven Robert Barich turns that maxim into an art lesson with "Transpose," featuring several large-scale photoreal B&W paintings broken by conflicting perspectives. Barich digitally combines pics in Photoshop, prints a transparency of the collage, projects it onto a large piece of paper, then paints over it to generate the trippy yet realistic effects. Also on the collage tip, former news photographer Dan Nelson presents ten "photems" — disparate images of everyday life stacked on top of each other like a totem pole. Boring and overlooked objects like rusting cars and taxidermied marmosets somehow add up to mysterious narratives about the futility of life, largely because Nelson's tight cropping kills any context. (Reception May 5, 7 p.m. Through May 21 at 21 Grand, 416 25th St., Oakland; 21Grand.org or 510-444-7263.)

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