It’s hard to imagine any exhibition that could rival the over-the-top visual circus assembled by Miss Rockaway Armada at the Philadelphia Art Alliance last spring, but Adam Wallacavage’s enchantingly bizarre "Shiny Monsters: An Installation," though a smaller show limited mainly to the Alliance’s second floor, is just as mesmerizing in its own way. Where the Miss Rockaway Armada succeeds at the DIY, thrown-together effect (not!), Wallacavage is the master of finesse. His baroque octopus and sea serpent-shaped chandeliers and sconces are so seamlessly constructed you wonder if he made them or had them fabricated (they’re all handmade by him). The inspiration behind Wallacavage’s pieces came from the dining room in his own house on Broad Street, which he modeled after Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and from the interiors of now-closed Gothic and Renaissance Revival Catholic churches in Philadelphia that he visited as a youth. Wallacavage, who is also a photographer, taught himself the traditional techniques of ornamental plastering, began sculpting with epoxy clay (his hand-modeled clay makes up a good part of his works, such as an octopus’ tentacles), and eventually developed his own glistening glazes.
Jan Baltzell’s recent abstract paintings at Schmidt Dean Gallery show her experimenting with gesture and color and pushing both to more dramatic effect than in the paintings of her last show here. The soft, muted greens, pale violets, and grays common to those works of a few years ago, which suggested meandering walks through the Wissahickon woods in early spring, have been revved up with riotous de Kooning-esque oranges, pinks, and yellows, while her linear brushstrokes now loop, twist, and swerve as if tracking the movements of ecstatic dancers. Having previously only seen Baltzell’s paintings on Mylar, itself a muted, translucent material (and which Baltzell has again employed for most of the works in this show), I was excited to see her color and painterly brushwork transposed to a stretched canvas support for the first time in her show’s two large-scale paintings.
German Gomez’s exhibition at Bridgette Mayer Gallery offers further proof of this gallery’s increasingly international focus. Gomez’s life-size color photographs of nude and partially clothed men, one series of which re-creates Michelangelo’s “The Damned” from his Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel and many of which are composites of several male figures or faces torn from their original photographs and reassembled, are clearly the work of an artist steeped in European painting. Gomez, who lives in Madrid and received both his B.F.A. and his M.F.A. from the Complutense University there, must also have more than a passing knowledge of the affichistes, those European artists who became known in the 1950s and 1960s for their paintings and collages fashioned from fragments of posters they removed from walls.
If there is any trend dominating Philadelphia’s contemporary-art landscape at this moment, it’s the DIY, rough-around-the-edges one epitomized by the work of the Dufala brothers, Steven and Billy, who came to Philadelphia from South Jersey with instinctive talents for retrofitting and reinventing everyday things and infusing them with deadpan, often dark, humor. Their ice cream truck-turned-army tank, winner of the 2009 West Grand Prize, is still their classic of the genre. For their second solo show with Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, the prolific duo have pulled out all the stops and then some.
Arcadia University Art Gallery's "A Closer Look" exhibition, which has traditionally shone the spotlight on a handful of veterans of the gallery's sprawling "Works on Paper" shows, has returned in an eighth iteration organized by Adelina Vlas. Vlas, the assistant curator of modern and contemporary art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, began her selection process in 2009 with a pool of 150 artists from which she chose 40, then 15, and eventually the five whose works are on view now.
After two visits to Fleisher/Ollman Gallery's "You, Me, We, She," I've come to think of it as an all-women Whitney Biennial. It's not nearly as sprawling as a biennial, of course, but it's simmering with radical ideas, presents works in various media by artists of different generations, features the works of individuals and groups, and offers related activities and events, on the premises and elsewhere.
David Kettner, a professor of painting and drawing at the University of the Arts for the last 43 years and much admired in that post, retired last month, and the university is honoring him with a one-person exhibition, "par-uh-doks," encompassing two of its galleries and the walls of the president's office. Get there ASAP - this two-week bon voyage has only five days to go.
Pentimenti Gallery regular Steven Baris continues to study and interpret the elasticity and ambiguity of the exurban landscape and its big-box architecture in his recent geometric paintings on canvas and Mylar, and his painted Plexiglas wall sculptures. In particular, his large oil paintings on canvas, showing diagrammatic outlines floating in milky atmospheres, express the banality and soullessness of the exurbs.
If you admire the fertile imagination of Willie Cole, do not miss the excellent and easygoing survey of his work, "Willie Cole: Deep Impressions," at the Rowan University Art Gallery, organized by independent curator and former Montclair Art Museum director Patterson Sims. (Sims was also the curator of Cole's first comprehensive survey show, "Anxious Objects: Willie Cole's Favorite Brands," which originated at Montclair Art Museum in 2005 under his directorship.)
It's not a pairing that automatically comes to mind - the prints of Picasso and the furniture of Wendell Castle - but the cofounder of cubism and the art-furniture patriarch look as if they were made for each other in Wexler Gallery's current exhibition,
Edith Newhall has been reviewing gallery exhibitions for The Inquirer since April 2005. She is a former staff writer for New York Magazine, where she covered the New York art world in features, exhibition reviews and interviews with artists. Her articles on the arts and travel have also been published in ARTnews, the Washington Post, Travel & Leisure and Condé-Nast Traveler. She is the co-author of "In Artists' Homes" (Clarkson Potter, 1992).