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American Idylls 

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Conceptual art means many things to many people. At its worst, it is the last refuge of the uninspired, but when it works it allows us to see the world anew. In this Staple Goods Art Gallery expo, New Orleans-based artist Lake Newton presents iconic images and objects that reflect the encounters we all have with everyday places and things, only here they resonate in unexpected ways. West Point, Mississippi is a photograph of a window studded with raindrops, but the image is reversed so the drops seem almost to ooze from within the glass. In another, the cracked, raised outline of a hand tossing a cup (pictured), as it appears on a trash can in a fast food restaurant, evokes the humid grittiness of the place while seeming as mysterious as Egyptian hieroglyphics. A related sensibility is echoed in a baroque blob of melted lead left by a burned car encountered in rural Louisiana and relocated to the gallery wall. In these works, Newton eloquently extracts maximal poetic content from his minimal prosaic subjects.

  The artists in An American Memory, curated by Michael Martin at Fair Folks & A Goat Gallery, explore some of the loose ends that historical imperatives like Manifest Destiny leave in their wake. Here Hannah Chalew's meticulous cut-paper recreations of charmingly blighted New Orleans cityscapes complement Georgia Kennedy's series of box sculptures that redeploy the "golden spike" symbol of the railroad industry's conquest of the continent to suggest more ironic or intimate scenarios. Siobhan Feehan and Philip Jordan's text and image celebrations of figures as varied as Jane Jacobs and Billy the Kid complement James Taylor Bonds' whimsical portraits of the outsider types who got caught up in history rather than leading it. All of which intimates a vision of America somehow more incidental, more human and less monumental, than Manifest Destiny or any of the grand narratives of the history books. — D. Eric Bookhardt

Through July 3

History of the Land: Photography and mixed-media works by Lake Newton

Staple Goods Art Gallery and Studios, 1340 St. Roch Ave., 940-5771

Through July 15

An American Memory: group exhibition

Fair Folks & A Goat, 2116 Chartres St. 872-9260; www.fairfolksandagoat.com

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