A photograph by Bari Ziperstein

A Spectral Glimpse

Platform Gallery

Through Dec 1.

The word "glimpse" is onomatopoetic: a couple of consonants not quite there, and then a sizzling disappearance. It radiates total possibility, like A Spectral Glimpse, independent curator Jim O'Donnell's first show at Platform Gallery, with work by artists from Seattle, L.A., Colombia, New York, and Chicago.

From cheap colored frames on the wall, more wall oozes forth in beams of white foam core coated in plaster. They reach out like abstract sculptures emanating from the architecture—as if the frames were placed in hot spots where the building's inner impulses could escape.

These are by Bari Ziperstein, who built a colony of the white constructions in her Spanish-style apartment (she lived among them for three months) and had the apartment photographed in the style of a glossy home magazine. These scenes with ghostly shapes issuing from her vase or chair or chandelier are unnerving but also endearingly absurd and funny, like early feminist collages or the Décor Project interventions in other people's homes by the artists Hadley + Maxwell.

Ghosts also appear in Leyla Cárdenas's photographs, of city buildings torn away from scarred walls. They're paired with bits of paint scraped from the demolished buildings, pressed between glass like archaeological finds.

What's glimpsed hints at what can never be photographed (the feel of the music, the air and light of the forest) in Lucy Pullen's photographs of a recording studio streaked with multicolored lights, and Adam Ekberg's flaring rings of the sun captured by a camera lens. Small surrealistic drawings by David Dupuis represent something unavailable in any other form: a daydreaming consciousness, rendered with exquisite precision yet naiveté. His drawing style has been compared to Louise Bourgeois's, another artist who uses recurring eyes; the bare, exotic environments with their echoing shapes also bring to mind Martin Ramirez.

Ariana Page Russell took close-up photographs of her pink, porous, and hairy skin, turned them into fan-shaped temporary tattoos, then applied them to her skin and peeled them off. She attached a scaly section of the remains, like a turtle's shell, between a wall and a window: the translucent peels are on the window, and the backings are on the wall. So many tiny glimpses are the opposite of cumulative; the shell is cracking and falling away.

On the gallery floor is Brad Biancardi's scale drawing of the underside of his first car, a 1983 Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue. Beams of color drawn in chalk emanate from the guts of the car, but they are busy disappearing as people walk on them. Each person carries away a colored shoe sole and leaves colored footprints on the sidewalk. Biancardi's piece can only be glimpsed briefly, which is sadly apt. The talented painter is moving from Seattle to Chicago later this month. JEN GRAVES

Syndicalism: The Art of Tend & Befriend

Washington State Convention & Trade Center

Through Dec 31.

Syndicalism, by definition, is a political and economic theory advocating action through party organization to create socialism. Historically, such organization has unfolded through uprising and protest, not exempting force or violence. In Syndicalism at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center, however, art presents group movement through an alternative "tend-or-befriend" model. The curators, Alice Dubiel and Deborah F. Lawrence, explain that the "need to overcome isolation and alienation stimulates the forming of connections, making individuals less vulnerable."

Dubiel and Lawrence have assembled a collection of vulnerable works—although the assumed curatorial intent is the presentation of individual artists as representative of a syndicated group of thinkers or doers. The works are vulnerable because, like Mar Goman's tiny compendiums, The Book of Yes and The Book of No, they represent the sincere use of corny, yet demonstrably true sentiments. Or as with Andrea Giaier's Lunar Hand Project, an international photographic survey of several dozen hands wearing the same ring, they are vulnerable because so many just absolutely nice and decent people are tied up in the project.

Dubiel and Lawrence contribute their own work to the show, and not surprisingly, these are some of the most didactic pieces, the too-excessively-on-theme. Both artists present busy, layered images that act as vehicles for emotional texts and transparent fables about feelings and sweet potatoes. Standing in front of them, my cynicism revolted and then my Protestant guilt set in.

Highlights include Polly Purvis's Two Dummies, the most casual and homey of her images of puppets posed and photographed as people, and John Feodorov's blown-up, black-and-white photographs of his ancestors layered with simple, short slogans stolen from ad campaigns for Native American–themed collectibles.

Anna Callahan's audio library of oral histories recorded in Dublin has smart, sometimes funny, and sometimes alarming titles—They Threw Him off the Roof Because He Had a Colored Girlfriend—but the listening experience, like this entire show, feels like NPR and tea on a Saturday morning. ABIGAIL GUAY

Gaylen Hansen: Three Decades of Painting

Seattle Art Museum

Through Jan 6.

Given the number of shows in Seattle right now devoted to the ephemeral (Insubstantial Pageant Faded at Western Bridge), the missing (Susie J. Lee: Refrain at Lawrimore Project), and the hidden (A Spectral Glimpse at Platform Gallery), Gaylen Hansen's irrepressible retrospective of 30 years of painting is gooey with presence.

Hansen is 85 years old, lives in Eastern Washington, and describes himself as having grown up in the "horse age." His paintings have been categorized as neoexpressionist and endlessly compared with Philip Guston, but they are much more varied and methodical than that makes them sound. One of his favorites, 12 Balls from 2003, is a pink ground, slightly raked, with 12 orange-red and mucky green balls that look like they've come to rest, by chance, in an unruly grouping. The color is so inviting that despite the banal subject matter, you become hooked, and then you begin to notice patterns—those three line up to form a vertical, there's a diagonal. Some of the balls are painted with more finish than the others. It's a study in how to make a painting: by design or by making it up as you go along? (Mound of Grasshoppers, an update on Monet's haystacks, is another.)

But the subject matter of most of the pictures is far less formal. They include crickets and tulips and fish and buffalo and a recurring, roughly drawn bearded character named Kernal Bentleg (Hansen's alter ego for years). The surfaces are rather smooth, but seem thick and warm and inviting. (The paintings are also not framed but instead humbly stapled to the wall.)

Hansen's sense of humor is absurdist, like Gary Larson's, his former student. Hansen's idea of a still life is a fish, a tulip, and a bison all set on their heads in a row on a kitchen table. In Kernal with Fire & Wolves (1984), smoke from a meat-roasting campfire blazes past the Kernal toward a pack of giant yellow-eyed wolves towering behind him. Is the Kernal as oblivious as he looks about what's coming? It's impossible to believe that he won't find a way out of this predicament to ride another day. JEN GRAVESrecommended