Often in a Photoshopped picture one can recognize the seams where the components have been stitched together. Uelsmann's analog montages are smoother and more "natural," if one can apply such a description to an image in which a huge boulder hovers over a recumbent woman, or a house sprouts improbably from the base of a tree.
The Michener show, organized at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., covers his full career, from his graduate-school years in the 1950s to the present. His earliest "decisive moment" photographs suggest that he had a sufficiently sensitive eye to have succeeded by responding to everyday visual experience.
Someone once said, "The eye sees more than the mind knows." Uelsmann turns that inside out: "I believe that the world exists in us as much as it does around us."
There are several ways to achieve the improbable combinations that characterize his art, which defines this genre. The photographer can deliberately double-expose his film in the camera, or print superimposed negatives.
Uelsmann came to prefer selective multiple exposures, using several enlargers to print parts of different negatives on a single sheet. His mastery involves not only selecting the components but aligning them so precisely that the final print is beautifully integrated.
Many of his most magical and technically accomplished prints come from the 1960s and '70s. Some of his images, like the levitating boulder, recall the improbable conjunctions painted by the Belgian surrealist René Magritte.
The work is frequently haunting and mystical. Quoting Uelsmann again: "The goal of the artist is not to resolve life's mysteries but to deepen them." So it is at the Michener.
Youth Will Be Served. Already part art and part science, the Reading Public Museum has added a third public dimension, that of children's museum.
By increasing programming tailored to families, the museum in 2012 doubled its attendance over 2011. It's not surprising, then, that two of its latest offerings are over-the-top kid-friendly, if distressingly commercial.
One is "Lego Castle Adventure," in which the tiny, colorful plastic bricks are used to construct castles, human-scale knights, and even a flaming red and not-very-scary dragon. It's hands-on, and kids are encouraged to create their own Lego sculptures.
The other is (no snickering, please) "Masterpieces of Jelly Bean Art," sponsored by Jelly Belly confections. This consists of eight large-scale mosaic recreations of celebrated paintings, from American Gothic to Mona Lisa, by California artist Kristen Cumings.
It's tempting to dismiss these shows, particularly the jelly-bean pictures, as trivial and inappropriate for a serious museum. Yet perhaps giving children a surefire way to enjoy themselves in what otherwise might seem an alien and intimidating environment is a sensible idea - to me, more sensible than trying to initiate them into the mysteries of Cezanne and Picasso. Having formed a favorable impression of the museum, they might tackle the serious stuff when they're older.
For adults, the museum redeems itself with two small exhibitions by artists of some stature, abstract painter Jules Olitski and photographer Barbara Morgan.
Olitski is known for a particular contribution to color-field painting - large spray-painted veils of softly modulated color. This show of small works, from George Washington University, includes some of those in miniature formats. It also reveals three other, lesser-known phases of his career - the stained abstractions that came before the veils; heavily furrowed abstractions, made with pigmented gels, that came after, and late paintings called "orbs" that featured prominent framing marks and brighter colors.
Aside from summarizing Olitski's concerns as an abstract painter, the show revives a persistent question about scale. These paintings aren't studies, yet they could be imagined in almost any size. The abstract expressionists liked to make monumental statements; Olitski proves that big isn't always better, or even necessary.
Barbara Morgan (1900-1992), a cofounder of Aperture magazine, became a noted dance photographer after an early career as a painter. Her portrait of Martha Graham known as The Kick became one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century. It's in her show, along with 21 pictures of other famous dancers, romantic images of trees, and several examples of photomontage.
Art: Uelsmann and Olitski
"The Mind's Eye: 50 Years of Photography by Jerry Uelsmann" continues at the James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 S. Pine St., Doylestown, through April 28; 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 10 to 5 Saturdays, noon to 5 Sundays. Admission: $15 general, $13 for seniors, $11 for college students (valid ID), $7.50 for children (6 through 18). Information: 215-340-9800 or www.michenerartmuseum.org
"Jules Olitski: On an Intimate Scale" continues at the Reading Public Museum, 500 Museum Rd., through May 26. The other exhibitions close May 5. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission: $10 general, and $6 for seniors, college students (valid ID), and children. Information: 610-371-5850 or www.readingpublicmuseum.org
"Art" by Edward J. Sozanski and "Galleries" by Edith Newhall now appear in alternating weeks.
Contact contributing art critic Edward J. Sozanski at firstname.lastname@example.org