Not much has changed since then, which makes the exhibition of Avery drawings at Frederick Baker an event of some interest. Drawing was essential to the artist's enterprise, and he created thousands of them, choosing to develop only a small fraction for paintings.
Avery's drawings have plenty of freshness, though because color is lacking, they gratify viewers more slowly than do his paintings. One by one, the simplifications and distortions in the drawings may look awkward, yet when taken together they prove uncommonly satisfying.
Welcome to a good-natured world that depicts simple pleasures while turning on the some of the most complex aesthetic imperatives.
At Frederick Baker, 1230 W. Jackson Blvd., through April 27; 312-243-2980.
Painting that fulfills canons of beauty common to earlier centuries has been gaining interest in serious contemporary art for more than a decade. Often it has been accompanied by conceptual overlays that attempt to make the fundamentally conservative work seem edgy. Not here. What you see is what you get in Ann Worthing's oil paintings at the Lyonsweir Packer Gallery. The appeal they have comes solely from visual characteristics.
All the pictures are land- or skyscapes in which the artist pushes close to abstraction a few representational forms trees, clouds, plants, birds, a squirrel. The subjects are, then, common; viewer interest depends exclusively on how the artist has conveyed them.
Color, touch and rhythm are crucial to the success of the paintings, and Worthing shows finesse on all counts. Such delicacy can, however, appear limiting, for the expressive range of the work is narrow, wan and consistently quiet. This range is not affected by the artist's sometimes radical cropping or her frequent practice of spreading motifs across more than one panel. Both register as decisions that she may have intended to give variety but have become almost mannerisms. Whether the loveliness of the work is too close to decoration is something that individual viewers have to decide for themselves.
At Lyonsweir Packer, 300 W. Superior St., through April 3; 312-654-0600.
Michelle Keim's photographs of industrial sites in the Midwest at the Graham Foundation have a kinship with the Precisionist vision in American art of the 1930s, though they do not communicate its optimism and appear more self-reflexive, emphasizing pure formal qualities such as composition and color.
As with a good deal of contemporary color photography, most of the C prints here are very large, thus suggesting ambitions that not long ago still were in the province of painting. Because they all are strongly geometric at times, almost abstract night pictures, the paintings with which they have associations are Georgia O'Keeffe's urban nocturnes and Charles Sheeler's views of industrial architecture, though there also are affinities with certain landscapes by Arthur Dove as well as, in one case, Minimalist abstractions.
Despite their content, the photographs ultimately are about color, whether bracing and highly saturated as in larger prints or mistily atmospheric, like Pictorialist autochromes, in 4-by-5-inch film stills. The light and color in several of these pictures looks unnatural, as if the photographer had doctored them. But the effects Keim secured came simply through long exposures that have helped make an eerie fantasyland out of some of the commonest structures in North America.
At Graham Foundation, 4 W. Burton Pl., through May 3; 312-787-4071.