Thomas Woodruff's two concurrent shows are aptly named Fever Dreams and Freak Parade, respectively, and both explore his intimately carnivalesque and neo-Victorian vision. Like the Victorians of yore, Woodruff gravitates to things mythic, mystical and naturalistic. Sun Study No. 1 (pictured) at Taylor-Bercier is a demonic female head suspended in space with strawberry blond locks that morph into a corona of fire. Between ears resembling oversize butterfly wings, her head supports yet another head — a leering gargoyle with fangs over which more demonic heads appear upside down — and the sense of a Kali-like demon viewing us hungrily from above is palpable enough to lend a whole new frisson to notions of global warming. But the real masterpiece here is Sleepy, a pastel painting of a sleepwalking adolescent female with rows of candles mounted on the oversize snails that crawl along her outstretched arms. It is weirdly psychological, a twisted gift from fairyland.
The larger Freak Parade show at the CAC builds on an ongoing series that often strikingly resembles fantastic 19th century Mardi Gras float illustrations, not to mention carnival sideshows. The participants range from animal, vegetable, mineral and human to various combinations thereof. Bambi-Lynn is a drum majorette twirling a flaming baton as she struts her stuff in a short skirt, boots and a little jacket left open to display her lovely breasts, all nine of them. Cobra Balloon is a bejeweled airship, something like a floating Faberge egg with a wicker basket of cobras suspended below. There are also unicorns, ice ghosts and a cigar-smoking skull. Bringing up the rear is a hooded and bejeweled figure sweeping up the glittery litter after the parade has passed, leaving things tidy enough to ensure eternal encores of the beautiful strangeness that Woodruff says is the best defense against the relentless onslaught of globalized sameness. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Fever Dreams: Recent Works by Thomas Woodruff
Through Oct. 22
Taylor Bercier Gallery, 233 Chartres St., 527-0072; www.taylorbercier.com
Freak Parade: Works by Thomas Woodruff
Through Oct. 24
Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528-3805; www.cacno.org