After the Fire

Although you won't find a Napoleon, Bluebell, or Snowball in Juan Erlich's mutant menagerie, his eye-popping c-prints on Plexiglas evoke a sense of Orwell's Animal Farm.

His bizarre beasties appear in lush natural settings devoid of human life, hinting at a dystopian future, or perhaps the aftermath of an eco-disaster.

The Argentine artist, who is making his U.S. solo debut with "Animals" at the Lyle O. Reitzel Gallery, seems to be riffing on zoological pecking orders, suggesting the more conservative of his critters — a jackass, a rooster, and a ewe — are conspiring for control of the hybrid herd.

In El Burro, the barnyard triumvirate lies near a copse of trees in a closely cropped image that saddles the beasts with the gravitas of Mount Rushmore. They are at stark odds with the other weird birds and mammals populating Erlich's world and appear to be ominously contemplating the Darwinian implosion before them.

Toxodontes features what might be rhino/hippo/water-buffalo hybrids roaming a polar ice cap. Erlich tinkers with tangled systems of mutations between species and places them in an unlikely environment where it is difficult to imagine their survival.

An image of a genetic experiment gone awry, Mara depicts a blue-eyed ringer for the sheep Dolly. Erlich works his digital legerdemain to give the appearance that the ewe's head has been grafted onto the body of an unrecognizable charcoal- and rust-coated creature. The animal primps for the spectator from within a Rainbow Brite-colored wildflower field as a cobalt blue butterfly nests on her ear like a dollar store hair clip.

One work in which Erlich's menagerie seems to coexist peacefully is La Laguna. It brings to mind Seventies B movie Night of the Lepus, in which zoologists create a serum for disrupting the breeding cycle of pesky rabbits. Instead it causes the rabbits to become giant meat eaters that end up slaughtering people.

One wonders if the same fate has undone humans, because Erlich hints at extinction by leaving people out of his pictures. In place of carrot-crunching marauders are mammoth rodents that dwarf a croc on the bank of a sunny lagoon. A bullfrog hijacks a stout lab rat for a ride while a garden-variety mallard bobs in the water, adding to the image's incongruity.

Geese turn out gussied up in Liberace-esque hot pink and baby blue feathers; randy llamas hump on an arid plain. One goose shanghais an emerald viper, turning it into a neck ornament while posing atop lily pads in the artic. His schizzy landscapes are as bemusing at they are disorienting.

Across the street, Pan American Art Projects is exhibiting new works by Gustavo Acosta, Ted Larsen, and Carlos Estevez.

Acosta's "Hipótesis de la Locura" features large atmospheric acrylic-on-canvas paintings of sprawling urban settings as if observed through the window of an airplane.

A Walk in Your City captures the light and buzz of a teeming metropolis after nightfall, in a nearly abstract grid composition where the traffic lights and the neon bubble harmoniously to the vibrant surface.

It's Fire, one of Acosta's most arresting images, depicts a dazzling ferris wheel against a muted earth-toned background. The dramatic effect is amped up by a mysterious lack of human presence.

There is an eerie sense of desolation and estrangement in his finely textured pieces.

Four graphite-and-ink-on-paper drawings, Holy Land I-IV, show the smoky ruins of bombed-out buildings and an air traffic control tower. The works peel back the bark from the anxieties and fears that reinforce stereotypes of xenophobia and warmongering.

In the project room, Ted Larsen weighs in with an eponymous exhibit that highlights an intriguing series of intricate sculptures made from recycled materials. The effect is poetic.

He brings what might be described as a Rube Goldberg sensibility to minimalism in his monochrome pieces creaking with immaculate ingenuity.

Winger, concocted from found and remilled wood, hardware, and canvas, juts out of a wall like a ship's prow. It almost appears like a wounded box kite awaiting rescue from a power line.

In "Jardin Hermético," Carlos Estevez creates enigmatic mixed-media assemblages that are alchemical in nature.

His complex constructions wrap around the viewer like tentacles drawing one into Tim Burton's locker or the cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

La Presaga is a compartmentalized box containing a doll dressed in a Renaissance-style gown, lying on her side in front of a finely drawn, starry blue mandala as a tempest of knives rains down. In the compartment to the doll's left, a likeness of her head has been painted over a geometric pattern. A gearbox handle erupts from the figure's cranium as a surveyor's plumb dangles below it. Tiny chambers fitted into the entire frame of the construction are filled with jars containing blue bromides and puzzling elixirs.

In another work, the freakish doll takes a curtain call sandwiched between architectural drawings of a domed building and a nude rendering of her body. Above her head are velvet-lined compartments containing a pair of white lace gloves, perfume atomizers, and an arsenal of menacing dental instruments.

Estevez's mesmerizing pieces are freighted with symbolism he shuffles like a Vegas blackjack dealer, often leaving spectators dizzy from the elusive slippery references of his hypnotic alternate universe.

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Carlos Suarez De Jesus