Three solo shows at the Mercury 20 co-op gallery offer both beauty and food for thought. And somehow they work together visually, even if wrapping them into a thematic package would be forcing things — co-opting their individuality.
Sculptor Charlie Milgrim's installation, "Stealth Reverie," comprises a row of wall-mounted airplanes made from folded tar paper that represent bat-like, angular B-2 bombers, designed to deflect radar waves and elude detection. We have twenty of them, each costing $2 billion, with millions allocated annually for maintenance, lest the radar-absorbing invisibility paint fail to perform; one even appeared at San Francisco's Fleet Week air show. Milgrim sees them as analogies for the darkness surrounding much of the political process — the "stealth" decisions made (perhaps inevitably?) even by politicians who promised (perhaps in good faith?) transparency and openness. The menacing airplane noses jutting from the wall suggest arrowheads or spearheads, abatis (medieval defensive fortifications), or the triangular steel teeth of bulldozer or backhoe shovels. The dark matter of industrial militarization is formidable, indeed.
Painter Julianne Wallace Sterling's New Work continues her exploration of feminine identity: "the realities, complexities, and absurdities of life as a woman. With bittersweet humor she explores the places where the gender conditioning of youth rubs up against the expectations of being a woman, wife and mother." Sterling contrasts her accurate renderings of solitary, private women with the conventions of pulchritude paintings that traditionally invited male gazers. In "Night," a young woman in a white slip, white heels, and white wig (or peroxided hair) leans against the painting's right edge, surrounded by an incompletely brushed-in black background. In "Ground," a dark-haired woman in white crouches, eyes closed, her outstretched palms to the floor. In the oddly entitled "Study in Blue Dress" (it's white), the same woman dances alone in six cinematic panels, the white backgrounds suggesting fashion photography — Richard Avedon's, in particular.
In The Space Between, newcomer Kerry Vander Meer searches for "a greater, larger space of calm" behind the visual clutter of daily life, between "the narratives, memories, and fragments" emanating from media — "the Internet, magazines, and books." She "seeks the space between the visual images we are bombarded with every second of every day." Her acrylic paintings of everyday objects — shoes, chairs, musical instruments, birds, tools — sometimes take a symmetrical, heraldic form ("Riding High"); sometimes ("Hidden Treasure #1") the objects combine into allover patterns; at others ("Sinaloa Love"), a single large object takes on anthropomorphic identity. Through October 29 at Mercury 20 (475 25th St., Oakland). 510-701-4620 or MercuryTwenty.com