Tricky Nic

Many of the subjects of Dallas-based photographer Nic Nicosia seem to be funneling all their joy, sorrow, and paranoia into rituals whose significance is unclear but ominous. Nicosia uses friends, family, and professional models to fabricate an American suburbia that spurns the traditional scars of living for a wholly internalized drama, often hinging on some inexplicable act or gesture or facial expression surrounded by otherwise serene circumstances. You could call his photographs and short films "passive aggressive" and be entirely complimentary (although some are just plain aggressive, if rarely hostile): The upper middle-class men, women, and children in his fictional setups argue, obsess, pine, exult, create, and destroy in cool repose. That you never know precisely what drives them through these captured moments is what makes the shots so eerie.

Our city plays host to both the latest work by Nicosia and the first major-museum retrospective of his career. Dunn and Brown Contemporary offers up Circles and Squares, a 16mm film that was staged and shot just a couple of weeks ago at the Lakewood Theatre. Talley Dunn says that, weather permitting, they will screen it in the courtyard; stills from the movie will be inside the gallery. Dallas Museum of Art looks back with Real Pictures: 1979-1999, organized by the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. The artist has specialized in narrative series that feature quiet domestic dramatizations of sexuality, fractured intimacy, and day-to-day tedium rendered in everything from bright candy colors to foreboding black and white; examples from each series will be featured at the DMA.

In contrast to image-makers like David Lynch and Cindy Sherman, there is no expressionistic gaudiness in Nicosia's "seamy underbelly" tableaux. The corrupt core of suburban America is one of the most clichéd conceits around (American Beauty, powerful as it sometimes was, didn't entirely escape this hoariness). Nic Nicosia doesn't expose anything; he captures the waves of tension that come from an unseen, slightly scary center.

Jimmy Fowler