Commissioned to create a work for PAFA's collection, sculptor Alyson Shotz spent some time studying the idiosyncrasies of the 1876 Victorian Gothic building designed by Frank Furness and George W. Hewitt. She paid particular attention to the architects' use of patterning - its handsome facade, incorporating red and black brick, and the ornate interior tilework of its Grand Stairhall - and to the shifting natural light in the Morris Gallery, where her work would be making its debut.
The result, on view in that gallery for much of the summer, is Shotz's extraordinary sculpture Plane Weave, made of thousands of aluminum octagons held together with stainless-steel rings and suspended from the ceiling like a gigantic piece of fabric, its flexibility allowing it to dramatically slump and fold.
Seen from the skylighted north side of the gallery, Plane Weave glints like mail armor or like ripples in the Schuylkill on a windy day; from the south, it's dark and transparent, allowing light to pass through and lending a mystical churchlike presence to the gallery.
Through Aug. 7 at Morris Gallery, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Historic Landmark Building, 118-128 N. Broad St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $15, students and seniors $12. Information: 215-972-7600, www.pafa.org.
Truthful urban fictions
San Bernardino, Calif., is the nominal subject of Tim Portlock's latest semi-fictitious cityscapes, which make up one-half of his first one-person show at Locks Gallery. The other half, of works dating mostly from 2011, consists of his eerily beautiful, fabricated scenes of Philadelphia's postindustrial wastelands, one of which was included in the 2014 ICA exhibition "Ruffneck Constructivists," curated by Kara Walker.
Portlock, a Philadelphian and a former painter and muralist, uses photography, special effects, and computer-game software to create his lushly colored pigment prints, all of which suggest a hybrid of painting and photography with digital interventions that are fairly obvious. If they were paintings, and celebratory rather than dystopian, you might compare them to 19th-century Hudson River School landscapes by Thomas Cole or Albert Bierstadt. Portlock's cityscapes are ambitious, sweeping, unpeopled, and deeply romantic despite their ominousness.
As a platform for Portlock's imaginings, San Bernardino is the polar opposite of Philadelphia. Unlike his Philadelphia scenes of dilapidated warehouses, fetid waterways, and stray, wolflike dogs seen at dawn or sunset, San Bernardino is captured in broad daylight. It's a dull, sterile place as Portlock interprets it, cheaply constructed and temporary-looking. The Hudson River School would have had none of this place.
I have no doubt Portlock has caught some essential truth about it.
Through July 16 at Locks Gallery, 600 Washington Square S. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Summer hours in July and August: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Information: 215-629-1000, www.locksgallery.com.
Clad in dust mast, singing
'For The Lost Garden, a performance two years ago at the Woodlands, Martha McDonald dressed as a Victorian widow and walked through a cemetery, singing songs of loss and passing out handmade felt "leaves" to her audience. We then followed her into William Hamilton's former mansion to admire the botanically accurate plants and flowers she had knitted and placed under glass domes.
Last Sunday, I and about 15 others donned dust masks and protective glasses and followed McDonald and artist/musician Billy Dufala through a dump as they performed Songs of Memory and Forgetting, her latest exploration of a site featuring songs. The "dump" was Revolution Recovery, a construction-waste recycling facility in Tacony, and McDonald's performance was commissioned by the Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR) program there.
If a Thomas Hardy female was the model for The Lost Garden, her model for Songs of Memory and Forgetting was more like Charlie Chaplin in The Little Tramp. Dressed in a hard hat, safety vest, jeans, and desert boots, she showed us a long table of her finds, arranged according to type (cutlery, paperbacks, drinking glasses). Her performance began at a mountain of debris, as McDonald selected items to make a comfortable outdoor "living room." Dufala played an upright piano while McDonald sang.
There were other stops. At the most successful, McDonald and Dufala stopped before a xylophone surrounded by trash, and sang a duet (McDonald has a lovely singing voice, as I knew, but I didn't know that Dufala was such a versatile musician).
As of this writing, only a few tickets were available for the final performances at 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday.
RAIR, 7333 Milnor St., rairphilly.org.