The sculptor and performance artist Nick Cave (not to be confused with the Bad Seeds frontman) is no stranger to Philadelphia. His exhibition at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in 2011 offered 15 of his bizarrely wonderful Soundsuits, costumelike sculptures made to be worn in performances and displayed on mannequins. You could imagine them inhabited by unrestrained humans dancing.
Now Cave’s back, this time at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, with works born of a different flight of fancy. “Nick Cave: Rescue” looks at dogs and their relationships with humans. Art and dog lovers alike are in for a treat.
The exhibition centers on three found-object sculptures from a series that Cave first exhibited in New York, at the Jack Shainman Gallery in 2014. Each has a single ceramic dog perched on a chair, surrounded by a dense, nestlike aggregation of beads and various flea market finds, such as ceramic birds and metal flowers. The effect is that of a lost canine sheltered in a magical wilderness den.
Taking off from there, the exhibition looks into the human-canine connection more broadly (and more PAFA-centrically) through images of people and their dogs in paintings, prints, and photographs from the academy’s collection.
Show organizer Jodi Throckmorton, PAFA’s curator of contemporary art, enlisted the help of fellow PAFA staff members, and together they assembled a list of works for possible inclusion. Cave made the final selections. (None are contemporary, the newest by far being Franklin Watkins’ charming 1959 painting Portrait of Lucky, which depicts an annoyed-looking poodle in the lap of luxury — a canine version of Truman Capote.)
The exhibition is displayed primarily in the downstairs Morris Gallery but also strays upstairs to the second floor of PAFA’s Historic Landmark Building. Cave’s three sculptures are strategically sited to raise awareness of the academy’s extraordinary holdings.
The downstairs Rescue, with a ceramic schnauzer front and center, occupies the Morris Gallery amid a salon-style presentation of paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs. Included are paintings by Thomas Sully, Horace Pippin, and Violet Oakley, drawings by Cecilia Beaux and Mary Cassatt, and mezzotints by John Sartain and William Tucker. A group of Thomas Eakins’ photographs captures the artist and his family with their beloved setter.
The majority of the images in the exhibition reflect the loyalty of canines and the affection humans feel for them and vice-versa. But the adorableness of the Eakins photos is quickly countered on an adjacent wall by the artist’s frank dissection studies of dogs. Horace Bonham’s 1880 ink drawing Trying the Pluck, of a street urchin holding a puppy by the scruff of its neck while its mother looks on, clearly alarmed, can be a disturbing image to contemporary eyes.
Upstairs, the two other Rescue sculptures hold court in two separate galleries of mostly 19th-century American paintings.
One features what looks like a Boston terrier. It’s situated in the center of an arrangement of Gilded Age portraits, landscapes, and seascapes, the way a French king might have sat on a throne in the grand salon of Paris.
The other upstairs Rescue is a bit more exotic than its fellow sculptures, with a ceramic French bulldog and a tentlike armature of beads and birds. It manages to both echo and rebuke the “Orientalist gaze” of the 19th-century Orientalist and trompe l’oeil paintings around it.
PAFA also has one of Cave’s Soundsuits in its collection. If you walk up to the second-floor part of the exhibition, it’s in the gallery behind you at the top of the stairs.
Through May 13 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118-128 N. Broad St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $15, adults; $12, seniors and students; $8 youth 13-18 (free for ages 12 and under). Information: 215-972-7600 or www.pafa.org.
Hidden in plain sight at the Art Museum
You could walk through a hallway in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s galleries of modern and contemporary art and miss something quite extraordinary: the terrific installation “Geometric Abstractions,” featuring museum-owned and promised works.
Organized by Erica Battle, associate curator of contemporary art, it’s on view through May 6 in the section of hallway that’s designated Tuttleman Gallery 174, beneath the ceiling painted with Sol LeWitt’s 1981 chalk-and-latex On a Blue Ceiling, Eight Geometric Figures: Circle, Trapezoid, Parallelogram, Rectangle, Square, Triangle, Right Triangle, X (Wall Drawing No. 351).
The exhibition includes an exciting collection of paintings by female artists Dorothea Rockburne, Alma Thomas, Carmen Herrera, and Geneviève Claisse. Among them, Claisse’s bull’s-eye composition H (1969), reminiscent of early James Bond movie intro graphics, was a particular revelation to me. Paintings by male artists Josef Albers, Callum Inness, Odili Donald Odita, and Robert Slutzky shine, as well.
Through May 6 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays (Wednesdays and Fridays to 8:45 p.m.). Tickets: $20, adults; $18, seniors; $14, students and youth ages 13-18 (free for ages 12 and under). Information: 215-763-8100 or www.philamuseum.org.