Galleries: All-red painting exhibition at Larry Becker Contemporary Art

"Untitled (Red Painting)," by Mark Williams, part of the display of monochromatic works at Larry Becker Contemporary Art.

Red is for Valentine cards and stop signs, not for monochromatic paintings. Or at least that's what I thought until I saw " 'To Be Looked at . . ., Close to . . .' [Summer Love]," a gathering of all-red paintings by Anna Bogatin, Dove Bradshaw, Marcia Hafif, Kocot and Hatton, Joseph Marioni, Jon Poblador, Steve Riedell, Lars Strandh, Merrill Wagner, Mark Williams, and John Zinsser.

I've never seen a show composed exclusively of all-red paintings at any gallery at any time of year - and I certainly wouldn't have expected to see one at Larry Becker Contemporary Art, a gallery that has long favored minimal, monochromatic canvases of white, black, and suggestive blues, grays, yellows, browns, and greens.

But this curiously titled show (borrowed from the even longer and more enigmatic title of a 1916 work by Marcel Duchamp) easily proves that in the right artist's hands (such as Mark Rothko's), a painting composed entirely of red can be just as mysterious, nuanced, or alluring as one of any other color. It's interesting to see how many variations of red exist so harmoniously in one room, too - I'd have expected clashes everywhere.

The show's most hypnotic work is Bradshaw's tiny painting Full, which she made in 1991 and completed this year. A Chinese red painting whose original time-darkened layers of red pigment and varnish are revealed at its outer edges, it pulls your eye in, like a window to a cellar, though it clearly projects outward from the wall and looks as much like an object as it does a painting.

A rectangle and a vertical line of carmine red intersect a vivid cherry-red field in Williams' Untitled (Red Painting), the show's largest piece and the one that most clearly demonstrates the voltage that high-key reds can deliver (wearers of red lipstick know this well). Zinsser's German Edition (2010) also pairs two reds - thick, squiggly strokes of orange red atop a ruby-red background - to visceral effect.

At the opposite end of the red spectrum are Wagner's commanding Arrow (2012), a geometric wall construction of found steel painted with a dark reddish brown-colored rust-preventive paint, and Steve Riedell's Folded-Over Painting (Red) (#2) (2011), which looks like oxblood polished leather stapled to stretchers. The reds and surface textures of both works suggest reflections on the passage of time.

I left " 'To Be Looked at . . ., Close to . . .' " thinking that Diana Vreeland, the Vogue editor renowned for her all-red apartment and her ever-unconventional mind, would have appreciated this show instantly.


Larry Becker Contemporary Art, 43 N. Second St., summer hours by appointment. 215-925-5389 or Through Sept. 8.

Let's show a put-on!

"On Loan," curated by Nora Salzman for Tiger Strikes Asteroid, presents its art in an installation more common to the museum model than to group shows of contemporary art. In other words, rather than displaying conceptually related works in a manner that will encourage an individual viewing of each work, as galleries usually do, Salzman has brought conceptually disparate works together through a didactic institutional display to encourage a collective reading of them. (Funny - I did think that this little gallery was suddenly looking more grown-up and polished than the last time I saw it.)

The "institutional" model is actually summed up in the show's first work, a piece by Anna Johnson, We Cannot Accept Your Position (2011). In it, the possible true appearance of a sculpture of a male figure Johnson saw in the background of a photo of President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev is conjectured by Johnson in a series of drawings mounted in a glass vitrine. This is an amusing put-down of didacticism, though Johnson needn't have included so many drawings to make her point.

What separates most of the pieces in this show is less obviously their diverse concepts than the way they were made, and in that, they fall into two groups: Those that were fastidiously constructed and those that try to subvert the notion of "well-crafted."

There are juxtapositions throughout that pair the lapsed and the apt. Elizabeth Hamilton's reassembled bone china creamer, plate, and sugar bowl are like objects one might encounter in a museum, and they are displayed museum-style, in plexiglass boxes. But Hamilton's deliberately obvious "repairs" with plaster, wire, foam, and other materials would never pass muster in a museum.

Right next to them are Lucia Thomé's porcelain self-portrait figurines based on Staffordshire portraits of Benjamin Franklin in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art - so perfectly made you almost believe the story she has fabricated about them in the accompanying wall label.

Meghan Gordon's clever photocopy-and-glue version of a typewriter, Salvatore Scibona's Typewriter (on which he wrote his highly acclaimed novel, THE END) (2009), is like a collapsed paper typewriter, something Philip Guston might have painted late in life (actually, it must be well made, but it tries not to look it). It sits on a white sculpture pedestal not far from Jessica Smith's exquisite wallpaper (properly pasted on a wall), Evil Swan (2012), derived from an 18th-century pattern for silk in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There are other works in Salzman's "museum show" that fit her theme less obviously - Serena Perrone's color silk-screens, which seem utterly contemporary and were also hard to see in this installation, and Jamie Horgan's cast-paper crown molding, Paper Crown (2010), cast from recycled paper pulp.


Tiger Strikes Asteroid, 319A N. 11th St., 2 to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 484-469-0319 or www.tigerstrikesasteroid. Through Aug. 26.