Visitors of all stripes entering Gallery 176, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's modern and contemporary wing, appear to connect instantly with the mostly large, at first seemingly monochromatic paintings that make up "Notations/Joseph Marioni Paintings, 2000-2015." Perhaps they're picking up vibes from the early eighth-century carved sandstone sculpture of the Buddhist figure Avalokiteshvara from northeast Thailand, an item from the museum's collection moved into the gallery for this exhibition for a specific purpose. In Buddhism, this particular bodhisattva, or saintlike being, with a downward gaze devotes himself to helping others achieve the state of awareness called enlightenment. I think it has worked.
Not that Marioni's paintings need any help. His individual blue, yellow, ochre, red, turquoise, orange, white, green, and violet paintings are mesmerizing and seductive. Though a cursory description of them might give such an impression, they are by no means simple: Each is a composite of layers of different transparent and translucent shades of colors applied with a roller over a ground color (indicated by the work's title, e.g. Blue Painting or Yellow Painting) onto an upright stretched canvas; the drips of each successive layer are often left exposed at the very bottom of the canvas as evidence of a painting's previous lives. Their surfaces glisten like glass, or a pool, or a candy apple, and, depending on the light and the level of your gaze, you might see yourself in them.
On one December afternoon, the windows that line the gallery's north clerestory wall were reflected in the white, blue, green, orange, and red paintings hanging on the south wall, giving them a look of great inner depth, while at the same time the paintings on the other walls seemed to emanate light, not draw the viewer inward. Marioni's paintings' hues also seemed to mutate as the natural light diminished during my time there. (A guard who said he had seen these 11 works "in the morning, afternoon, and evening, you name it," informed me, knowingly, "they change all the time.")
Marioni's monumentally scaled Painted Violet, from 2015, the show's most recent work, clearly purplish when I'd arrived, was indigo shifting to black when I left. So was the sky.
At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays (Wednesdays and Fridays to 8:45 p.m.). 215-763-8100 or www.philamuseum.org. Through May 22.
All together, now
Like me, you might expect "Peculiar Velocity," an exhibition organized for PAFA by the artist and PAFA faculty member David Dempewolf to reflect his memories as a student there in the 1990s - to be skewed, personal, and maybe even a little narcissistic, as such shows tend to be.
But, no, this is a warm, generous, backward glance at a time and at the various PAFA teachers and students who knew one another then and shared similar aesthetic concerns. Dempewolf's exhibition muses on the effects that such a like-minded group had on one another's art, on Philadelphia's art scene of the 1980s and '90s, as well as on himself and the development of his own art.
Walking through, I saw the impressions that such teachers as Murray Dessner, Sidney Goodman, and Jan Baltzell made on their students, as well as influences from outside the PAFA community, among them Keith Haring, Philip Guston, Elizabeth Murray, and Philadelphia sculptor Charles Fahlen.
Some standouts include Scott Rigby's remarkable likeness of Andy Warhol in etched and painted Styrofoam, The Shoulders of Giants: Andy Warhol (1997), based on a photograph; Astrid Bowlby's energetic, gestural line drawings in ink on paper; Alexander Cheves' thickly impastoed abstract paintings incorporating cement; Hiro Sakaguchi's droll miniature portraits of teachers and students from the series "Artists Cards" (1996), and Marina Borker's cut-vinyl collages of abstracted landscapes. Dempewolf's own contribution, a screenprint on a skateboard (1997), catches the spirit of those times perfectly.
At the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Samuel M. V. Hamilton Building, 128 N. Broad St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 215-972-7600 or www.pafa.org. Through April 3.