In February, artist Paul Cava canceled his exhibition at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral hours before it was to open after church authorities objected to nudity in some images, calling it “inappropriate” for the sanctuary, and asked for them to be removed from the show. Now his exhibition, “Inks,” has found a more simpatico environment at Old City’s Moderne Gallery.
The earliest series of photo collages in the show addresses the Cambodian genocide. Cava started making them in 1997 after seeing the 1996 book The Killing Fields and its photographs of Khmer Rouge prisoners at the notorious prison Tuol Sleng.
He cut out pages from the book for his series “Tuol Sleng,” then painted and stamped the appropriated portraits with black, gold, and white inks. A final layer of sepia-colored varnish gives these haunting manipulated portraits an aged appearance, as though they were found hidden away and unprotected.
Cava followed “Tuol Sleng” with his “Man/Woman” series, a poetic tribute to Eros as the antithesis of death. The works in that collection show photographic images of male and female nudes recombined and collaged, then painted with black and white ink. They’re the most erotic of the “Inks,” and they too have a distinctly elegiac quality.
For his next series of “Inks,” called “Models,” Cava tore pages from a book of photographs by Jeanloup Sieff, the French photographer known for shooting celebrities and female nudes in sexually provocative poses. Each work in this series shows a single female nude painted over with black ink, mysteriously (and erotically) obscuring parts of her body.
“The main motivation here is the idea of negation,” Cava told me by email. “In formal terms, think the opposite of Rauschenberg’s erased De Kooning drawing.”
His analogy makes sense, but De Kooning’s “Woman” paintings — minus their riotous colors — come more readily to my mind.
For his final series, “Christ,” Cava tore pages from a book of reproductions of Old Master paintings of the Savior and painted them over with inks to emphasize the notion that all living persons are Christlike in their imperfections. It’s a fitting final chapter for this dark and mostly redemptive body of work.
Through April 21 at Moderne Gallery, 111 N. Third St., noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Information: 215-923-8536 or modernegallery.com.
Urban treasures in disquieting miniature
If you dote on familiar city landmarks, as I do — and hate to see them falling to the wrecking ball more and more frequently, as I do — Drew Leshko’s dollhouse-scale replicas of Philadelphia’s buildings are simultaneously lovable and disturbing. Walking through his show “Sacred Lands” at Paradigm Gallery, I found myself wondering how near some of his subjects might be to meeting their demise.
Leshko’s facsimiles in this show include the historic Edward Corner marine warehouse at Delaware Avenue and Shackamaxon Street — which once offered rope, canvas, anchor, and chain, and which is being reinvented as an apartment building — and Penn Treaty Metals, a scrap-metal company on Frankford Avenue founded in 1980 and still in operation.
Leshko has also added a new category of endangered urban treasure to his repertoire: retail signs. His diminutive and meticulously fashioned renditions of signs for establishments like the Paradise Restaurant and Perry’s Place hang perpendicular to the wall, as the originals were designed to do. They struck me as warning flags.
Through May 19 at Paradigm Gallery, 746 S. Fourth St., noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Information: 267-266-0073 or ParadigmArts.org.
Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion goes modern
Like other historic sites in the Philadelphia area — Glen Foerd, Bartram’s Garden, and the Powel House — the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion is embracing the concept that contemporary art can attract new audiences and supporters.
The house, built as a country villa in Germantown in 1859 and almost perfectly preserved from that time, is now exhibiting installations by three female artists whose works suggest new possibilities for artists interested in history. The show is called “Victoriana Reimagined.”
Melanie Bilenker sews ordinary scenes of Victorian domestic life using her own hair — a contemporary take on Victorian memorial hair jewelry. Jacintha Clark has made porcelain facsimiles of Victorian-era sheet music, arranged as though casually strewn atop the mansion’s antique Stieff piano. Talia Greene supplies an extravagant cut-paper riff on the dining room’s gas chandelier.
Through Sept. 1 at Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, 200 W. Tulpehocken St., open for tours Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, and 3:15 p.m. Admission: $8 ($6 for students and children). Information: 215-438-1861 or ebenezermaxwellmansion.org.