Art museums: The spring of art-can-be-anything

"Big Springs in Yellowstone Park," 1872, by Thomas Moran.

T his season, like most seasons, demonstrates the truism that art can be anything and anything can be art. Two exhibitions this spring remind us that this idea is itself a century old.

The Delaware Art Museum is commemorating the centenary of the Society of Independent Artists, an organization that decreed that anything could be shown in its exhibitions. And the Philadelphia Museum of Art has a show keyed to the 100th anniversary of Marcel Duchamp's Fountain, a work that didn't meet the group's nonexistent standards. People have been arguing over what can't possibly be art ever since.

There should be no controversy about the big show of the year, the Art Museum's exhibit of American watercolors from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. Many of the same artists will be featured in a loan show of American paintings from Washington's Phillips Collection. Meanwhile, the standout show of the fall season, "World War I and American Art," continues at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts until April 9.

No Jury, No Prizes: The Society of Independent Artists, 1917-1944 (Feb. 4- May 14, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington). This show celebrates the centenary of an organization founded by artists that mounted enormous New York shows in which anyone could present any work, provided that they paid a small fee. Not surprising, the exhibitions drew an eclectic mix of work. This show includes posters and other promotions for the exhibitions, and a sampling of works that were shown. (302-571-9590, delart.org)

A More Perfect Union: Power, Sex, and Race in the Representation of Couples (Feb. 4-May 29, Woodmere Art Museum). In time for Valentine's Day, this group exhibition presents many different generations' images of marriage, sexuality, and the expression of love. More than 50 mostly Philadelphia-connected artists born between 1741 and 1989 explore the roles of women and men, social class, race, and same-sex marriage. (215-247-0476, woodmereartmuseum.org)

Lenka Clayton (Feb. 10-July 9, Fabric Workshop and Museum). This British-born interdisciplinary artist living in Pittsburgh will show examples of her video, sculpture, and collaborative works. The show will include two works inspired by Constantin Brancusi's Sculpture for the Blind, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, along with works by blind people she has invited to participate. A second floor of the exhibition, based on work she does during her residency at the Fabric Workshop, will open March 17. (215-561-8888, fabricworkshopandmuseum.org)

Person of the Crowd: The Contemporary Art of Flânerie (Feb. 25-May 22, Barnes Foundation). Flânerie is a French word that once meant strolling aimlessly through city streets, but most of the 50-plus artists in this show have gone beyond detached observation and have tried to attack the problems of the 20th- and 21st-century city. Among these are homelessness, globalization, gentrification, and gender politics. Among the artists featured are Marina Abramovic, Vito Acconci, Eleanor Antin, Constant, David Hammons, and Zhang Huan. In addition to the works on display at the Barnes, some artists will create works that will be seen on Philadelphia streets during the show, and there will be a commissioned digital work by New York artist Man Bartlett exploring themes related to the exhibition and the concept of "cyberflânerie." (215-278-7000, barnesfoundation.org)

From Homer to Hopper: Experiment and Ingenuity in American Art

(Feb. 25- May 29, Brandywine River Museum). The exhibition, assembled by the Phillips Collection in Washington, features 54 paintings that trace the course of American art from the realism of 19th-century painters such as Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer to the 20th-century psychological explorations of Edward Hopper and Maurice Graves. Among those included are Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Horace Pippin. (610-388-2700, brandywine.org)

American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent (March 1-May 14, Philadelphia Museum of Art). After the founding of the American Watercolor Society in 1866, watercolor painting became a very popular medium for many Americans, including some of our greatest artists, preeminently Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent. This comprehensive show will include many examples of their work, along with works by Thomas Moran, John La Farge, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, and Maurice Prendergast, and into the 20th century with Charles Demuth, John Marin, Charles Burchfield, and Edward Hopper. The Art Museum is expecting a large audience, and timed tickets will be used. (215-763-8100, philamuseum.org)

The Berlin Painter and His World: Athenian Vase-Painting in the Early Fifth Century B.C. (March 4- June 11, Princeton University Art Museum). The Berlin painter is the name given to an otherwise anonymous artist who worked in Athens more than 2,500 years ago. About 350 vases and fragments have been attributed to this artist, and this show will include 54 of the finest vases attributed to the Berlin painter, along with 30 other vessels and statuettes that depict a wide variety of subjects. (609-258-3788, artmuseum@princeton.edu)

Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection (March 12-July 9, Philadelphia Museum of Art). Intricately embroidered textiles known as phulkari ("flower work") were made in what are now Pakistan and western India during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This show, in the costume gallery in the Art Museum's Perlman Building, will present an outstanding collection of special-occasion garments, show how they were made and used, and trace their influence today. (215-763-8100, philamuseum.org)

Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form (March 18-July 9, Michener Art Museum). From 1926 to 1931, the pioneering Philadelphia-born modernist painter and photographer did fashion photographs for Condé Nast magazines. This work for hire has generally been ignored in studies of Sheeler, but this show argues that the magazine work was crucial to the development of his vision. It will include many examples of his photographs, along with paintings and items of clothing that relate to the photographs. (215-340-9800, MichenerArtMuseum.org)

Marcel Duchamp and the

Fountain Scandal

(April 1- Dec. 3, Philadelphia Museum of Art). Opening on April Fools' Day is a small exhibition about one of the most consequential jokes in the history of art. A century ago, Marcel Duchamp submitted a store-bought urinal to the nonjuried Associated American Artists show in New York, and it was rejected. Drawing on the museum's extensive collection of Duchamp material, the show will outline what the artist was thinking and what the impact this seeming prank had in defining what art can be. (215-763-8100, philamuseum.org)

Gather Up the Fragments: The Andrews Shaker Collection (Through April 23, Mercer Museum). This eccentric Doylestown landmark is the final stop for a traveling exhibition of the collection of Faith and Edward Deming Andrews, pioneering collectors of Shaker furniture and artifacts. More than 200 items, including a wide array of tools and clothing, along with examples of the sect's signature furniture will be on display. (215-345-0210 or mercermuseum.org)

Myths of the Marble (April 28-Aug. 6, Institute of Contemporary Art). "The Blue Marble" is the Earth, and this exhibition, organized by the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter in Oslo and the ICA, promises to explore how artists from many countries have used "the virtual" as a way to understand and navigate the material world. It will include painting, sculpture, installations, video, and virtual-reality technology. (215-898-7108, icaphila.org)

Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect (June 24-Sept. 17, Brandywine River Museum). In recognition of the centenary of the artist's birth, the Brandywine, in conjunction with the Seattle Art Museum, is organizing a comprehensive survey of Wyeth's career from the 1930s until his death in 2009. It will feature more than 100 paintings, including some rarely seen works. (610-388-2700, brandywine.org)

tom@thomashine.com