Melanie Schiff is obsessed with decay and detritus, so much so that she presents her scenes in large-format black-and-white and color. Yet Schiff is not your standard-issue ruins photographer, reveling in the profusion of devastation; she adds the note of breakdown to her images so that it dominates its more normal context, but does not overwhelm the setting. Take her most extreme shot in which a hollowed-out tree stump seems to merge with the rocky, desiccated, weed-strewn patch of land that surrounds it. The stump looks like nothing so much as a gaping skull. The other images do not cut to the quick that way, but the intrusion of death is always there, as when we see spent shell casings littered on a barren, wasted bluff. Schiff even lets herself play; we come close to the side of a house where various wilted vegetations have grown, and we look up through the picture window and are dazzled by a display of colored-glass vases, bowls and beakers that give us a shot of kitsch. (Michael Weinstein)
Through December 8 at Kavi Gupta Gallery, 835 West Washington
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