America has always been many things to many people. A beautiful, bountiful land that promised wealth and freedom to people who had neither, it was also tainted by slavery, oppression and genocide against its native inhabitants. This raucous mix of high ideals and base motives was oddly reflected in 19th century traveling medicine shows, which these banner-like Beautiful Possibility paintings by Alison Pebworth evoke. Collectively they refer to a nervous ailment dubbed "Americanitis" by the psychologist William James. A malady brought on by rapid change, it even inspired patent medicines to treat it. Reflecting clashing circumstances, Pebworth mixes past and present to suggest aspects of Americanitis for us to decipher. Remarkable Tricksters features P. T. Barnum, B'rer Rabbit and Karl Rove. Another features a Native American totem with Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop and Wall Street bulls. In The Greatest Show on Earth, an old time circus ringmaster stands atop a power plant cooling tower flailing a whip at a tsunami in an apt summation of our approach to climate change. A whimsical installation, these works effectively evoke America's colorful complexity over time.
Over at the Front, Bywater artists Jonathan Taube and Imen Djouini dealt with the related issues of borders and displacement by erecting a crude earthen barrier just inside the gallery entrance. Neatly excavated from a rectangular cavity behind the building, it blocks our approach to some big graphic depictions of North Korea, Palestine and the Arizona-Mexico border on the wall. An exploration of the romance of landscapes characterized by border conflict, Djouini and Taube's minimalist project bluntly yet eloquently reminds us that migration remains a charged and complicated issue, and that human aspiration knows no boundaries but is mainly constrained by dreams and mirages. ~D. Eric Bookhardt
Beautiful Possibility: New Works by Alison Pebworth, Saturdays, Sundays Through Feb. 3, Antenna Gallery, 3718 Saint Claude Ave., 250-7975; Rampart: Positive + Negative: Site Specific Installation by Jonathan Taube and Imen Djouini, Saturdays, Sundays Through Feb. 3, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980. Left: Beautiful Possibility Still by Alison Pebworth.