Dog Days: I am Temple

at Motel, NW Couch between 5th & 6th, through Aug. 1; Bella's Pockets at Nine Gallery, 1231 NW Hoyt; Erinn Kennedy at Pulliam Deffenbaugh, 522 NW 12th, through July 31

One sweltering afternoon last week I stopped in a well-known local art gallery to check out their current exhibition. Starving and exhausted, I was relieved that the owner was nowhere to be seen, but it became apparent the woman left in charge was under the influence of a substance far more controlled than your average Frappuccino. She was a cacophony of frantic energy, and when she spoke, one got the sense that her words were pouring out faster than her brain could process them.

I didn't want to call extra attention to myself by whipping out a notepad and scribbling comments about the artwork, so I put on my best harmless art-lover voice and asked if might take a few digital snapshots of the work--strictly for my own reference. She shot back, "What kind of camera is it?" Did she think I was going to throw a lead apron on and start X-raying the art? I held my camera up in front of her face, which she approved of. I photographed a few pieces, but by then I was too zonked out to even copy the titles and dates, so I snapped pictures of the wall labels from a few of the show's better works. "Stop," I heard. "What are you doing?" I looked around to make sure nobody was talking to me. I was wrong. Ladytron was storming over to me, waving her hands. "Stop it! Why are you taking pictures of the titles?" "So I can remember them later," I said, wondering if Ashton Kutcher was waiting outside, about to tell me that I had been Punk'd. But it was just me and Ladytron, and she was furious. "You never told me you wanted to take pictures of the titles," she shrilled. "You have to write those down if you want them. Do not take any more pictures of the wall labels! You did not ask me about that." I looked into her zingy, dilated eyes and saw that she was being completely serious. Too exhausted to get involved with her gallerina, territorial pissing psychodrama, I turned on my heel and walked out of the gallery, wondering what else I might review this week.

Motel Gallery offers its most ambitious show to date with Jessie Vala's I Am Temple. The small gallery is filled with white corduroy trees with carved out notches that house matching pink and white stuffed animals. The walls have been stenciled in neo-Victorian patterns, a lacy web covers the ceiling, and hundreds of pink felt leaves cushion your footsteps. There are paintings, too--modest sized portraits of frightened, Puritanical-looking women. There aren't a lot of clues for direct interpretation, but the general mood is sort of Bjork-meets-Hester-Prynne, and it's an impressive show for Motel's sophomore year.

For a straight shot of childhood wonder and mystery, check out Bella's Pockets, an exhibition of photographs by Lisa Bauso at Nine Gallery. Bauso has created an extended series of bright, colorful still-lives composed of the contents from a seven-year-old girl's pockets, and the miniature collections are almost too good to be true. What kind of a day finds a child with three wine corks, a cube of tin foil, a fluoride tablet, and a piece of sea glass at bedtime? So much of Bella's rich, inner secret life is hinted at in photos like Pocket 19, which shows a tiny tube of Colgate, a stick whittled to a dull point, and a plastic toy rabbit. Basuo's still-lives are free of cheap sentimentality and serve as reminders of the totemic, fetish status that objects acquire for those without purchasing power.

Erinn Kennedy's exhibition of new paintings at Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery might as well be called More of the Same. Her eleven new canvases traffic in her familiar superflat style of nuanced renderings of girly beads, earrings, and bracelets. The paintings are more sophisticated than they would seem at a glance, but they are nearly indistinguishable from the first paintings I ever saw of hers years ago. I wonder what would happen if Kennedy started painting portraits of friends, modeling Sculpi clay, or did absolutely anything to break out of her comfort zone? The art world is a more forgiving place than our insecurities trick us into believing, but one thing nobody likes is being fed the same dish at every meal. CHAS BOWIE