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Scavenged sculpture and Dead Sea scrolls: 10 heady spring exhibits blooming in New England galleries

By GREG COOK  |  February 28, 2013

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BARRY MCGEE | Barry McGee began tagging the San Francisco area, where he grew up, in the mid-1980s. His loose, swaggering handstyle (tagging under the name Twist) and giant two-tone, sad-sack faces came to define graffiti in the Bay Area.

But McGee also studied at the San Francisco Art Institute. For galleries, he paints gritty faces on paper and wood and empty booze bottles (some of which it's said he buys from homeless folks). He paints vibrating patterns of Day-Glo cubes. He paints folksy signs in fonts resembling something you'd find scrawled all over a visionary evangelist's garage. He hangs them in massive clusters inspired by votive offerings he once saw in a Brazilian church. There are also traces from thrift stores, tramp art, skating, punk, surfing, and Bay Area murals and psychedelia.

Indoors, he builds ever more immersive spectacles. This midcareer survey was put together by the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in California, where it opened with stacks of glowing televisions, a re-creation of a bodega, and a quartet of tagger-mannequins perched on each other's shoulders and then on top of a crashed van to tag the museum itself (the top dude is a robot that moves). Welcome to street-art Disneyland.

Institute of Contemporary Art | 100 Northern Ave, Boston | April 6–September 2

TORY FAIR |The Arlington artist Tory Fair, known for her dreamlike sculptures of flowers and nude women, shifts into curious new territory with sculptures in aluminum, quartz, and resin of a hand mirror turned into a dark ladle, a metal crate covered with flowers and sealed with pink goop, and another crate covered with yellow (faux) flames as if it's a meteor streaking out of the sky.

LaMontagne Gallery, 555 E. Second St, Boston | March 14–April 20 | Free

ABIGAIL ANNE NEWBOLD | Abigail Anne Newbold's installations (in this case titled "Crafting Settlement") set up camp at the Venn diagram intersection of survivalist urban homesteader and recreational backpacker. The Massachusetts artist refits a Shaker rocker with neon-yellow nylon webbing. She constructs a bike-pulled covered wagon. She reconsiders tools and quilts as both art and necessities to stock in shelters from the fallout of the usual American way.

Currier Museum of Art, 150 Ash St, Manchester, New Hampshire | March 30–July 14 | $10

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AMY ARBUS | With live models, theatrical lighting, and painted bodies and props, Amy Arbus (daughter of Diane) vividly re-creates celebrated paintings — melancholy women from Picasso's Blue Period, a tired Cezanne peasant, a Balthus Lolita, and a handcuffed naked lady by Ingres. Her moody "After Images" are impressions that entertain via their striking fidelity.

Griffin Museum of Photography, 67 Shore Road, Winchester | April 9–June 2 | $7

TOSHIO SHIBATA | The Japanese landscape photographer Toshio Shibata focuses on the rough steel-and-concrete public works of modern society — roads, bridges, dams, erosion-control barriers — but carefully eyes their relationship to surrounding fields, forests, and rivers to make them seem somehow timeless. It's a blend of modernist abstraction and the crisp harmonies of traditional Japanese art that goes down like a tonic.

Peabody Essex Museum, 161 Essex St, Salem | April 20–October 6 | $15

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