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.
Together, the works of Dechemia (John Gibbons and Isobel Sollenberger), Sebastien Leclercq, Josh Shaddock, and Brent Wahl look as though they were selected to complement one another, though Vlas in her gallery notes says she chose them for their individual strengths, then later suggested that they try to consider their context within the group exhibition. It's clear, in any case, that Vlas is drawn to carefully constructed minimal work that seems intended to defy easy explanation.
Quirky humor, sculpture, and the photographic image would seem to be high on her list as well.
The framed photographic diptych that makes up Shaddock's Alone Together - in which the spines of two copies of the same book by Norman Douglas, Alone, are shown side-by-side, with a single framed photograph of the spine of another solitary Douglas tome, titled Together - employs the kind of deadpan humor common to works by William Wegman (his early conceptual photographic pieces from the 1960s, in particular) and Edward Ruscha's paintings. His print Everything Else, depicting two tiny black parentheses back-to-back, is similarly deadpan, but the meaning of his and, per se, a found channel-letter ampersand with pigeon spikes on it, eluded me. (It's intended to refer to the original meaning of the term "and by itself," hence the sharp spikes to ward off perchers of any kind.)
Dechemia's two large works, which were conceived especially for this exhibition, relate to each other, but not in any obvious way except through the team's use of painted and poured plaster. Flower of the Mountain, a 12-panel wall relief of molded white paper, slowly reveals a woman's face painted on it in plaster. Though you'd likely never guess it, the face is Marilyn Monroe's, based on a 1954 photograph of the actress by Eve Arnold that showed her sitting by a pool reading James Joyce's Ulysses (and capturing her as a more intellectual person than had been previously thought). Their poured-plaster floor sculpture pigmented with blue ink, Blue Pool, directly in front of the wall relief, is based on the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Separated from her book, Marilyn appears to be looking downward into a pool that does not reflect her gaze.
Bits of debris found along Lincoln Drive and in a garden are artfully arranged on black surfaces in Wahl's photographs, each abstract composition a record of his explorations outdoors and in the studio. One large ink-jet print, untitled, debris site #6m (Lincoln Drive), mixes the detritus left from a party (noisemakers, popped balloons, ribbon, etc.), while the 44 ink-jet prints that are mounted on makeshift tables and comprise untitled, debris site #4 (garden) show the bits of plastic, wire, rocks, and other materials and objects he encountered while cultivating his garden. Looking at these, I thought of Charles and Ray Eames' House of Cards picture-card decks as reimagined through the lens of an urban archaeologist with a dry wit.
Leclercq's clever, fastidiously made facsimiles of notepads, binders, and lined paper in binders can fool the eye, but he takes the notion of the perfect copy further here with his wall installation of paper and binders, Expert Collaborator, which gives the impression of his facsimiles having been suddenly airborne and thrown into chaos by a tornado - and whose title suggests he wanted a dialogue with his fellow artists. It works, memorably.
Arcadia University Art Gallery, 450 S. Easton Rd., Glenside, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays, 12 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 215-572-2131 or www.arcadia.edu/gallery. Through April 22.
If you missed Orit Hofshi's exhibition at Swarthmore College's List Gallery last year - or if you didn't - be sure to catch her first one-person show with Locks Gallery before it closes this week. Hofshi's work is even more impressive at Locks, whose high ceilings allow her pieces an even stronger presence.
Hofshi, a Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts graduate who lives in Herzliya, Israel - and who continues to make her gigantic, expressionistic woodcuts and woodblock prints in a studio barely large enough to contain them - is to Israel what William Kentridge is to South Africa. Danger, desolation, exiles, and dystopias are her themes, and lurk in her haunting carved images of devastated landscapes.
Locks Gallery, 600 Washington Square South, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 215-629-1000 or www.locksgallery.com. Through Friday.