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Elizabeth Shannon's River Culture and Beth Dary's Surface Tensions 

Elizabeth Shannon is back. Not that she ever went anywhere, but her early reputation was based on Zen-like environmental installations of found objects that radiated the surreal "rightness" of a happy accident. Later forays into conceptual postmodernism yielded fewer gems, but here she returns to what she does best. My favorites are the simplest. Circle With Horn is a precisely constructed wooden circle, an antique form from which a metal machine part was long ago cast at one of the foundries that once dotted the riverfront. Within it, a steer horn reclines as comfortably as a cat on a windowsill, and there's really nothing to it. Yet the old form and antique steer horn radiate the hyper-reality only objects imbued with the unspoken weight of the ages can possess, and their union, like a found-object koan, evokes a sense of serendipitous predestination. In Flow, a wooden form like a cleaved aqueduct bearing a stream of rounded pebbles evokes the elemental tension between the age of steam and the natural forces of the river and the rocks it carries downstream. Some other pieces are fussier or more baroque, but there are more iconic works in this rather meandering show than we have seen in some time. On the walls, deeply hued photographs created via the cyanotype process suggest a promising new direction for Shannon's archaic-surreal aesthetic.

click to enlarge CircleHorn2.jpg

  Beth Dary's delicately crafted porcelain barnacles clustered along the walls of the back gallery are small and subtle even as they strikingly resonate the essence of barnacleness. They also are amazingly detailed, with a precision matched by her black-and-white encaustic and egg tempera drawing series of dots — like coral formations or meticulously calcified sea creatures — on paper. The drawings and the installation are both based on the way New Orleans and Lower Manhattan were shaped by the Mississippi and New York Harbor in this ingeniously engineered expo of unlikely elemental elegance. — D. Eric Bookhardt

River Culture: Sculpture and Photographs by Elizabeth Shannon

Surface Tensions: Porcelain Wall Sculpture and Drawings by Beth Dary

Through Nov. 30

Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300; www.heriardcimino.com

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