Annie Leibovitz: American Music

EMP, 367-5483

Through Jan 19. The large photograph absorbing the southwest part of the Annie Leibovitz exhibition frames an urban moment in one of those neighborhoods that in the late '90s were under redevelopment, with their mix of departing working-class blacks and storefront churches and arriving middle-class white hipsters and health-food stores. The moment captured is a hiphop moment: The Roots are performing on a street corner to a small crowd that, like the neighborhood, is mixed (blacks, bohemians, whites, b-boys). With his huge body and a small drum kit, ?uestlove commands the photo's center. He is the world around which the warm summer afternoon whirls. The rapper Black Thought, who stands next to ?uestlove, looks like a brother from another planet projected into this place and time by late jazz and '70s funk Afrofuturism. Another rapper talks casually to a friend.

This is the best image in the show. And I think it works because Leibovitz is still discovering hiphop, which makes it harder to code or reinforce established codes. The language and ideas of the other rock images in the show borrow directly from the common language of rock history and myth. Rock has its roots, its clear geography, its evolution of races and classes. The blacks are the source; their churches, shotgun shacks, and juke joints form the spaces of birth. There are also poor whites, with their own spaces of birth: porches, pickup trucks, old country roads. All of this raw stuff evolves into the glitter of modern rock, which is urban, often exhausted, and all white. Leibovitz reinforces these codes, gives the narrative of rock its visual confirmation. But when she deals with the utterly new and foreign--such as the photo of rapper Mos Def, the second best image in this collection--she seems to be in a position of invention rather than convention. CHARLES MUDEDE

John Powers

Solomon Fine Art, 297-1400

Through Nov 28. Something happens to your brain when you learn that a line is composed of an uncountable number of points. Your notion of infinity implodes, so that it now means infinite crowding into a contained space, a tension that is pleasant, rather than frustrating, in its contradiction.

These are the essential tensions conveyed by John Powers' sculptures. Powers builds his works out of little wooden blocks, most of them of the plainspoken 1-2-3 proportions of the Froebel block. The shear number of blocks makes them a real tool of possibility, as in the formidable White Rows, which resembles a cloud gathering, an untamable weather pattern, a tornado, an atomic blast. The blocks in the center are tightly packed and patterned, and as the cloud dissipates, undulating, toward the outer edges of the work, the blocks are more loosely arranged, until at the very edge it's just pairs of little blocks leaning against each other.

Bud Lake is simpler--a stout little cylinder, constructed in a similar intricate pattern of blocks. Again, you are made aware of pleasurable tensions: between lots of things and a single thing, a solid shape and an intricate structure, sharp edges and the appearance of curves, the regularity of patterns and the randomness of intuition, the limits of rules and the expansiveness of discovery.

The sculptures are shown with a few works on paper that don't have quite the same force: lots and lots of little rectangles piled on each other, as regular and devotional as a mandala. Without the powerful White Rows gulping up all the air in the gallery, these works might have some depth and pleasurable illusion, but as it is they stand by as patiently and ineffectually as maiden aunts. EMILY HALL

Katy Stone

Suyama Space, 256-0809

Through Jan 9. It's difficult to take an impression from the natural world--the shock of autumn leaves, the unsettling swell of a wave--and give it body in art without leaning on sentimentality. That this is so often the case may have something to do with wishful feelings about nature's gentleness (as opposed to its ruthlessness); think of photographs of the majesty of nature and how they compare to the feeling of the real thing. Katy Stone's current series of installations floats between the alarming and the sweet, though I myself prefer the alarming (like many city people, I don't sustain much awe for nature but occasionally am caught off guard by it).

A triple diagonal row of what look like eyelashes, painted on and cut out from clear sheets of acetate, seems to grow right out of the wall, and the work's shadow extends the reach of the grotesque, groping hairs, an image of invasion rather than benignant coexistence. (The work's title, Blade, suggests as much.) Similarly, White Root--which cascades from the ceiling, gathering and displaying the lights in the gallery--has the potential to overwhelm, either by its innocent-seeming tendency to cloak things or by something more greedy (it brings to mind the predatory potato sprouts of Nicholson Baker's Mr. Potato Head story).

The other three sculptures depend on the beauty of a fragile simulation of nature, and on different forms of shadow and reflection--and the latter is something that's been done quite a bit in this particular gallery, to exhausted effect. A pile of red leaves, some windblown petals, a gush of water--they have an insinuating loveliness, but without the power of the other two. The feeling of nature has as much to do with fear as with prettiness. EMILY HALL