RUEFULLY FUNNY Regier’s Dime Star & Stan Pede.

Randy Regier's Dime Star is a story about disappointment. A traveling salesman's sample cases are stacked up, displaying vintage '60s (looking) toys — a "Dime Star" space cowboy policeman and his human-headed space horse, wristwatches ("Shows exact time twice a day — anywhere in the world"), a clock. Trading cards spill out of a wallet, celebrating the arrival of the "Dime Star Salesman" to the house or depicting a boy imagining himself as the space cowboy next to the headline "In Your Dreams."

The pieces of Regier's ruefully funny, astonishingly crafted installation (he's made nearly everything himself including, I suspect, newspaper packed around the clock as cushioning) add up to focus on the tension between two archetypes: Buck Rogers "thrilling exciting romantic adventure toys" and the unseen Willy Loman selling them. It's about the gap between boyhood dreams and a man's life, between the American dream and the drudgery of getting by day to day. Hiding in the bottom of one of the trunks is the salesman's pack of Parliament cigarettes, an "Ace of Sales" sheriff's star, and two "Silver-Tex prophylactics."

Regier, one of the best sculptors in the country, who moved from Portland to Wichita, Kansas, last summer, is among the artists with New England ties featured in "rolemodelplaytime" at Brown University's Bell Gallery (64 College St, Providence, through July 8). Curator Ian Alden Russell mulls role models and role-playing, cross-dressing and playing dress up. He thinks about how play is aspirational, we pretend to be heroic adventurers or beautiful princesses, as well as determinate, it defines the perimeters of what society says we can be.

Gender gets particular attention here. Malus domestica, Pink Lady, a giant triptych in a churchy arched frame by the Boston collective TRIIIBE, features Cary Wolinsky's impressively, elaborately staged photos of triplets Alicia, Kelly, and Sara Casilio. At center is one of the triplets turned into a towering blonde Barbie-ish "Pink Lady" doll. At left, a smiling little girl in a princess dress plays with one. At right, the girl, now an adolescent in pink T-shirt, black fishnets, boots, and studded collar, sits sullenly beneath a framed design reading "Pink Lady R.I.P." It's a simple allegory about what we reject and what we retain from childhood models of women.

Jane Maxwell of Boston also explores feminity in collages of dieting texts, targets, and school lessons turned into catchy and stylish but not very substantive images of strutting models.

GENDER-BENDING Cole’s The Pink Kitchen.

Caleb Cole of Boston stages photos of himself in found settings dressed in costumes he has assembled. Side by side images from this Other People's Clothes series emphasize Cole's gender-bending humor, with his Kewpie doll looks, masquerading as a woman in a floppy hat peering in a window, an old coot leaning over a backyard fence with a skeptical look on his face, a woman in a denim dress provocatively crossing her legs in the back seat of a car, and a nervous little man wearing a black suit that's too big for him standing in an empty parking garage. The staging and attention to light make for beautiful images, while Cole's acting tells a repeated story of people saddened and exhausted by life.

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Related: Lucas Foglia’s ‘A Natural Order’ looks at self-sufficiency, Brown's 'Faculty Triennial 2010', Brown’s “Building Expectation” showcases architectural visions, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Brown University, Brown University, Randy Regier,  More more >
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