Good photographers have a talent for making strong pictures in even the most unpromising places. But sometimes luck plays a hand. Surely luck smiled on Alec Soth when he found the Santa striding down a deserted street on a sunny afternoon five years ago in Bogota, Colombia. The jolly elf is a cartoon incongruously drawn on the pavement beside a row of pastel cinder-block buildings at the base of a low mountain. Puffy clouds float cheerfully overhead.
This ridiculously surreal scene is one of 30 new Soth photos on view through Jan. 12 at Weinstein Gallery in south Minneapolis. The show, Soth's third at Weinstein, coincides with the publication of "Dog Days, Bogota" (Steidl, $35), a selection of photos that the Minneapolis artist made in Bogota in 2005 when he and his wife spent two months there adopting their daughter, Carmen.
The show of the same name is vintage Soth: square-format color images of mundane subjects -- mangy dogs, chickens, children, civil servants, unmade beds, nondescript landscapes, walls with and without snapshots attached.
Soth has built an international reputation and considerable fame on the strange, gently melancholic images he frames wherever he focuses his lens. In this series, the colors seem curiously bleached and flattened, as if a pall of dust, anxiety and amnesia had settled over a once-vibrant culture. Stray dogs are everywhere, peering from the balcony of a shuttered house, abandoned in the street, sprawled on a mountain path, guarding a barred window, clutched by an expressionless teen. Like surrogate humans, the pathetic creatures exude a wary hopelessness, which seems to be Soth's view of Colombia.
In the book's brief introduction, he explains that it is for Carmen, whose birth mother gave her a book of letters, pictures, poems and a blessing: "I hope that the hardness of the world will not hurt your sensitivity ... [and] that your life is full of beautiful things." Soth's book and exhibition are his effort to describe "some of the beauty in this hard place," where Carmen was born.
Ends Jan. 12, free. Weinstein Gallery, 908 W. 46th St., Mpls. 612-822-1722 or www.weinstein-gallery.com.
Leah Golberstein at Form + Content Gallery
Travels this past spring to Crete, Thessaloniki and Rhodes, Greece, inspired a poetic, deeply religious installation by Minneapolis artist Leah Golberstein. Each of the sites she visited has a complex history in which her own Jewish heritage interacted with Byzantine Christianity, Catholicism and Islam.
In "Uprooted Lights," as she calls the installation, all those religious traditions mingle, although elements of traditional Judaism dominate in the form of a tallit or prayer shawl and tzitzits, or little twiglike bundles used in rituals. Golberstein cherishes the time-consuming process by which she hand-makes paper from flax, experiencing it as a kind of meditative labor by which she purifies her spirit.
She has attached sheets of the crumpled paper to worn boards, garnished them with balls of crushed rose petals and wrapped them around the supports for a chuppah, the canopy used in a Jewish wedding. Every element is laced with symbolism and Golberstein's personal history (the crocheted chuppah was made by Polish ancestors; the tzitzits came from a local temple). Golberstein's passionate faith is palpable as she discusses the piece, but even without her eloquent explanation, "Uprooted Lights" lifts the spirit.
Ends Dec. 13, free. Form + Content Gallery, 210 N. 2nd St., Mpls. 612-436-1151 or www.formandcontent.org.
Ken Moylan at Thomas Barry Fine Arts
In his new "Japan Series," Minneapolis artist Ken Moylan again demonstrates his astonishing dexterity and craftsmanship with wood and paint. Since graduating from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1980, Moylan has perfected a unique style of marquetry that merges realistic landscapes with elaborate wood framing that creates the illusion of a vista viewed through a window or doorway. By carefully manipulating the wood's grain and stain, he suggests patterns of sun and shade, dawn and evening, and changing seasons.
His Japanese scenes depict many of the country's historic castles (Nijo, Nagoya), shrines (Kasuga Taisha) and temples (Daitokuji, Ginkakuji). Each is painted at a peak moment when a tower is framed by flaming maple leaves or moonlight glows off the opalescent walls of a castle and gleams in the waters of an ancient moat. Accented with gold leaf, or painted with pigments made from ground oyster shells, Moylan's new work is beyond exquisite. It's been 10 years since he's exhibited in Minneapolis. Way too long.
Ends Dec. 1, free. Thomas Barry Fine Arts, 530 N. 3rd St., Mpls. 612-338-3656 or www.thomasbarry.com.
Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431