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Review: Artist maps the growth and development of an imaginary city since 1963

“Cruel Apparition of Freedom (Angola)” by Ryan Pierce is a beautifully rendered image of the impact of resource development and competition for dwindling energy sources.

“Cruel Apparition of Freedom (Angola)” by Ryan Pierce is a beautifully rendered image of the impact of resource development and competition for dwindling energy sources.

516 ARTS is hosting “Off the Charts” curated by Rhiannon Mercer and Claude Smith with works by 13 artists and “Knew Normal,” curated by Nancy Zastudil with works by 14 artists through Oct. 31.

Both exhibitions are brimming with intelligent and well-executed selections including the knock-your-Sunday-morning-socks-off “Jerry’s Map,” an extraordinary two-stories-high installation of painted squares by Jerry Gretzinger, who has been mapping the growth and development of an imaginary city since 1963.

The project was born with a doodle 52 years ago and continues to grow. The accompanying video explains the artist’s complex working process that relies on the random selection of playing cards as a means to create patterns.

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What I love about his jaw-dropping project and the other pieces in this show is their revelation of the arbitrary nature of too often fought over boundaries, borders, city limits, weather maps and other capricious human constructs.

When American astronauts flew back from the moon in 1969 a picture was taken of the beautiful blue ball covered in pure white clouds on which we all live.

The photograph did not reveal one single dividing line between sections of land. There is only one world and the divisions we perceive are as fictitious as the works in this exhibition.

Speaking of which, the husband-and-wife team Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet have beautifully illustrated two separate and conflicting global viewpoints with their “A Conservative Map of the World” and “A Liberal Map of the World.” People of all political stripes should enjoy perusing this pair.

Nathalie Miebach does a wonderful job turning weather data into woven sculptural designs that read like three-dimensional musical scores.

My favorite is a global model replete with tiny sailing ships that reveal our dependence upon natural wind and water currents for travel and commerce.

“Knew Normal” resides on the second floor and is far more figurative than the abstract mapping and pattern documentation on the first floor. This show is about climate change, pollution, mass extinction and other happy thoughts.

The imagery, however, is beautifully rendered and imaginative. Cedra Wood of Albuquerque is a talented painter and performance artist who skillfully draws and paints commentary on our collective and individual environmental impact.

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Her “Blackberries in Raudfjorden” and “Lemmings” depict women wearing dresses with their heads and faces covered in plants or little animals. The images are reminiscent of the woven mask worn by the 25,000-year-old “Venus of Willendorf” statue.

“Lemmings” by Cedra Wood in the “Knew Normal” exhibition is an image reminiscent of the 25,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf statue.

“Lemmings” by Cedra Wood in the “Knew Normal” exhibition is an image reminiscent of the 25,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf statue.

Ryan Pierce wades in with two colorful paintings “Cruel Apparition of Freedom (Angola)” and “Los Angeles,” each illustrating different aspects of climate change. In “Los Angeles” Pierce depicts the remains of a large rowboat half buried in a slurry of sand and water.

If the oceans rise 10 feet in the next 50 years, as predicted by most climate scientists, there won’t be a lifeboat big enough to save the world’s coastal cities. Where’s Noah when you need him?

Though the messages in these shows are not a laughing matter – except for Birk and Pignolet’s political maps – the work is stunning in its craftsmanship, presentation and overall quality of thought.

It’s a do-not-miss two part installation in what has become our city’s premier contemporary arts institution.

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