Who would have thought two separate group exhibitions of monumentally scaled new (and newish) gestural abstract paintings by female artists would arrive at two prominent Center City college galleries at more or less the same time? This coincidence is great news for female artists, of course, but these particular painters would stand out as exhilaratingly good no matter the gender of the company they're in.
"Quicktime," at the University of the Arts' Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, looks at the works of five New York artists of various generations who handle a brush and paint as confidently as a jazz pianist who improvises on a piece. But it's also evident that the spontaneity and sense of freedom in their paintings come from dedication to craft.
Patricia Treib's brushy planes of color in a palette of peach, pale violet, ochers, and gray-blues are defined as architectural forms by dark calligraphic lines. They look to me like abstract riffs on Matisse's moodier paintings of domestic interiors, such as his Woman Before an Aquarium of 1921/23.
Intentions seem to go intentionally awry in Amy Feldman's paintings. A gray outline of connected shapes that suggests a DNA chain or a blocky silver Mexican necklace doesn't inhabit its monochromatic background gracefully. The same applies to an arrangement of dark gray shapes, also on a monochromatic background, that occupy their allotted space like river stones arranged in a circle by a small child.
Marina Adams' off-kilter, wildly colorful, vertical zigzags break all the rules boldly - think Missoni on steroids - but their roots are in Sonia Delaunay's geometric textiles and Matisse's cutouts.
At first, Ann Craven's two paintings of a purple beech tree at night and one depicting a crescent moon seen through branches suggest a slower approach to image-making than do other works in this show. But her process, which unfortunately is not revealed in this show, is faster and more energetic than it looks. Craven systematically repeats her own paintings in series until she's utterly finished with a theme.
The calligraphic lines that dance with and jostle each other across Melissa Meyer's canvases illustrate most clearly this show's premise - "expedient painting full of the flare and flash of gestural freedom." Meyer's dazzling brushwork can flow along in one uninterrupted motion, then erupt into scherzos, come a hair away from chaos, and just as quickly restore its equilibrium. It's a stunning performance.
Before it came to Moore College of Art and Design, the continuing project known as "Paper Giants," conceived in 2013 by the New York artists Ky Anderson, Meg Lipke, and Vicki Scher as way to exhibit their work together, made appearances at galleries in Hoboken, N.J., and Alma, Kan.
Their most recent iteration, like its predecessors, offers their latest abstract paintings on 72-by-60-inch sheets of thick printmaking paper pinned to the wall.
The three maintain separate studio practices and employ different ways of working. Anderson draws and paints, Lipke batiks and draws, and Scher paints, draws, and collages. Yet their works look terrific together, especially as united by paper, scale, vivid color, their unfinished look, and their casual display.
A like-minded catalog for "Paper Giants" is available in Moore's Art Shop for $20. It features these works and the group's previous efforts, along with essays by Cydney M. Payton and Geoffrey Young.
"Quicktime" through April 22 at Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, University of the Arts, 333 S. Broad St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. 215-717-6480 or www.uarts.edu.
"Paper Giants" through April 15 at the Galleries at Moore, 20th Street and the Parkway, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. 215-965-4027 or www.moore.edu.
And let's hear it for the boys
Philadelphia can also lay claim to two singular concurrent exhibitions of sculptural animations (by two men).
Paul Chan, an artist, writer, and publisher involved in political and cultural activism, expresses his thoughts on our present state of affairs with "Pillowsophia," in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts' Morris Gallery.
Constructed to mimic the fluttering, inflatable figures seen at car dealerships, a long, black, hooded coatlike form in an armature is attached to the wall with an industrial fan blowing upward beneath it, causing the form to move dramatically up and down from its "waist," as though inhabited by an overly excited preacher or politician addressing an audience. But this volatile form's jerky movements are made to look as though they're choreographed by numerous electrical cords that are plugged into concrete-filled sneakers and shoes placed randomly on the floor. It's a haunting image of hollowness and intransigence, and frighteningly American, too.
Timothy Belknap, one of five Vox Populi members currently having solo shows at the artist collective, has come up with one of his typically mysterious, mechanically operated scenarios, although this one, unlike other works I've seen, seems to have political overtones. Incurable few, in his "Chum" show, consists of outdoor decklike wood platforms placed in three corners of the gallery near its ceiling. Attached to them, eight pairs of human feet cast in silicone move at varying intervals, as though belonging to humans dabbling their feet in water. The film Jaws comes to mind - or alternatively, a group passivity - as you look upward at these lifelike casts in motion unaware of the possible danger below.
"Pillowsophia" through May 28 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118-128 Broad St. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 215-972-7600 or www.pafa.org.
"Chum" through April 23 at Vox Populi, 319 N. 11th St. Noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. 215-238-1236 or www.voxpopuligallery.org.