Melissa Merli's Art Beat: Unwind with art during the holidays

A nice way to escape the hustle and bustle of the holidays is to escape into an art museum or gallery.

Several art and photography exhibitions in town right now are worth checking out.

At the top of the list is "Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography" at Krannert Art Museum.

Curated by Miles Barth, a New York City-based independent curator, this traveling exhibition features photographs, mainly digital, with some manipulated; a couple of videos; and three dreamy silver prints of China's famed Yellow Mountains.

The images explore the themes of identity, cultural memory, globalization and the urbanization and degradation of nature in China.

Without being didactic, the exhibition is packed with information. And some of the pieces are just fascinating.

While I was on a repeat visit to this exhibition this past week, a museum guard told me he's heard many favorable comments from visitors about "Rising Dragon."

Hurry: It closes Dec. 30.

Also closing at KAM that day will be "Fields of Indigo: Installation by Rowland Ricketts, with Sound by Norbert Herber."

One of my friends who is working on a doctorate in art history told me he thought I gave this installation short shrift in a previous column. He finds "Fields" meditative and said it engages all of the senses. Not taste, though!

Warning: The floor is covered with dried indigo, so avoid it if you are allergic to plant material.

If you make it to the museum, check out the newly renovated African art gallery. It is clean looking, design-wise, meaning the works in it pop visually.

Remember, Krannert is a unit of the University of Illinois College of Fine and Applied Arts, which means that during the holidays, when classes are not in session, the museum closes at 5 p.m. Thursdays rather than 8 p.m. And the museum will be closed Dec. 24-26 and Dec. 31-Jan. 1.

Its hours in the next few weeks: 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays, closed Mondays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Another worthwhile exhibition of contemporary photography is "Shift" at the Parkland Art Gallery. It's curated by Peggy Shaw, a Parkland professor of photography who is a fine fine-arts photographer herself.

For "Shift," she did not include her own work but instead works by eight photographers from throughout the United States. They illustrate the major shift of the past decade or so in photographic techniques.

"From photograms to video, from silver to pixels, the bridges and boundaries of the photographic medium continue to be investigated, stretched and defined," Shaw wrote for the curator's statement. "'Shift' explores the experimental and exploratory spirit of photographers who are challenging limitations and delving into new frontiers, from the microscopic to the monumental."

"Shift" remains on view through Feb. 2. The gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays and noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays. The gallery will be closed Dec. 22-Jan. 6 and again Jan. 21 for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Shaw isn't showing her work in "Shift," but she has a photographic installation in the group exhibition "Canis Familiaris" at Amara Yoga & Arts on the east side of Lincoln Square Village in Urbana. On view through Feb. 7, the works in this show are mainly about animals, and mainly about dogs.

I especially liked Susan Smith's small paintings and was glad they were marked NFS (not for sale) because I felt tempted to buy one.

While you're at Lincoln Square, check out the $50 show in the Art Coop Gallery. I love this show, which is a benefit for the Champaign County Humane Society.

I wish, though, that I would have turned up early for the opening last week because I would have snapped up Will Arnold's photograph of the woods in Urbana where I used to walk and run my beloved dog Scoop. Someone else bought it before I saw it.

All of the pieces in this annual show cost $50 each. All the proceeds go to the Humane Society, where I adopted Scoop and my current canine love, Skye, a blue-eyed cattle dog.

You can see even more representations, all three-dimensional, of animals in "Fins, Fur, and Feathers II" at the Cinema Gallery. It features 35 ceramic pieces made by 31 artists who live in this area and out of state.

Gallery owner Carolyn Baxley did a "Fins, Fur and Feathers" show three years ago; it was so popular she brought it back this year with a different roster of artists.

All of the pieces are for sale; you might find a gift for an animal lover. Baxley extended the gallery hours for the holidays: the Cinema, 120 W. Main St., will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Christmas Eve. Closed Christmas Day, of course.

The show is on view through Jan. 19.

Last week, I went to the opening of another art exhibit, "Pedagogue," at the Springer Cultural Center, 301 N. Randolph St., C. On view through Jan. 31, this show features paintings, drawings and ceramics by instructors in Champaign Park District programs.

The Springer used to have an art exhibition series but no longer. "Pedagogue" is a one-time show, mounted by the park district instructors.

Calendar for all years

When I visited Krannert Art Museum last week, I was surprised to see KAM Council president Gloria Rainer selling calendars featuring color photographs by Chris Main. The photos, taken in the H.I. and Mabery Gelvin Gardens in front of the museum, are close-ups of the flowers, plants and leaves in the garden, through the seasons.

The calendar, smaller in size than most, is one for all years: The days of each month are listed by only the number, with spaces next to them for jotting down special occasions. Mary Kay Dailey, a council member, designed it.

It costs $15. Proceeds help support the museum. You can buy it by calling Main at the museum at 333-1861 or by contacting Rainer at 352-6115 or gjrain@comcast.net.

Turino on WEFT

A few weeks ago, I wrote in this column about Tom Turino, a musician and recently retired UI professor of ethnomusicology. He is hosting the "Wednesday World Beat" show from 2 to 4 p.m. every other Wednesday at WEFT 90.1-FM. This is a great chance for world-beat fans to hear the music with commentary by someone who is internationally known in the field.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or mmerli@news-gazette.com. Her blog is at http://www.news-gazette.com/blogs/art-and-about.

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