Not long ago, it was next to impossible to find an exceptional art show in the summer. Commercial galleries hewed to the gallery artist group show, and college galleries to sprawling displays of faculty or alumni work — if they didn't close altogether. In many cases, that's still true.
But savvy gallery owners and curators are increasingly treating the dog days as an opportunity for experimentation. That offbeat or obscure show that didn't seem "important" enough for September is now having its close-up in July and August. Heat and humidity accentuate the pleasure of discovery, I'd say.
At Arcadia University, for example, the Commons Art Gallery and Great Room Lobby are the backdrop for "John Hathaway: Studies, Drawings, Paintings, Prints," a fascinating look at a forgotten Philadelphia artist, organized by exhibitions coordinator Matthew Borgen.
Hathaway (1905-1987) was an art professor at Beaver College, now Arcadia University, from 1934 until 1971 and designed the three stained-glass windows for its former chapel, now Stiteler Auditorium. He brought his early expertise in stained glass to subsequent efforts in other media, particularly his printmaking.
As a young man, Hathaway had worked as an apprentice to the stained-glass artist Lawrence Saint, known for his windows at the Washington National Cathedral, and had traveled to Europe with Saint to visit cathedrals and churches. The show includes Hathaway's studies on paper and celluloid for his stained-glass commissions, as well as a monitor displaying photographs of the auditorium's three jewel-toned windows. The public can also visit the originals — the auditorium is inside Murphy Hall, up the hill from the gallery, on the second floor.
Hathaway's prints depicting animals, such as his 1962 linoleum print The Fabulous Philadelphia Zoo and his 1974 relief print Untitled (Zebras), play up the idiosyncrasies of each animal's physical characteristics as you might expect them to be rendered in glass. His prints and drawings of owls, a favorite creature of his, use bold, dark strokes to capture the hypnotic power of the nocturnal predator.
Other subjects, from the Valley Green Inn to a Chester Springs farm to the tower and flying buttresses of Chartres Cathedral, are rendered in a similarly bold manner. Hathaway excels at evoking a dark mood in landscapes and cityscapes and seems at times to have been influenced by the American Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton. A couple of "abstractions" — a brief dabble for him, I hope — suggest cartoons of Léger compositions.
In contrast, Hathaway's charcoal and pastel portraits of his wife, children, grandson, and one snowy owl are delicate, pensive, and personal. You wouldn't guess they were by the same hand, and I doubt Hathaway ever imagined they'd be exhibited. But they reveal more of Hathaway as a person than his "professional" work does.
This is the kind of serious appreciation of a Philadelphia artist that the Woodmere Art Museum has been undertaking in recent years (Hathaway is in its collection, by the way) and should not be missed by anyone interested in the city's art-history trajectory.
Through Sept. 17 at Arcadia University Commons Art Gallery and Great Room Lobby, 450 S. Easton Rd., Glenside; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Information: 215-517-2629 or gallery.arcadia.edu.
Fleisher/Ollman Gallery's "Alchemy, Typology, Entropy" offers a look at the works of three Philadelphia artists. It's really three one-person shows: paintings by Peter Allen Hoffmann and Adam Lovitz, and sculptures by Alexis Granwell.
Hoffmann makes big oil paintings and tiny ones, moving between geometric abstraction, landscape painting, and still-life compositions. His two large paintings, Yesterday, of colored moundlike shapes atop one another and receding in scale, and Carrying, ultramarine squares divided by a white grid accentuated with red squares (sound familiar?), are the show-stoppers. But some smaller works, such as Hey Hey, have a similar punch.
Lovitz mixes acrylic paint with sand and schist that he sources from the Wissahickon Creek to make small, modest paintings that harken back to old highway signs and self-taught artists in the manner of contemporary artists like Donald Baechler. They're lusciously made (some pouring of paint), and pointedly odd.
Granwell's organically shaped papier-maché sculptures take up the middle of the gallery, echoing — though not intentionally on her part — the imagery and abstraction in Hoffmann's and Lovitz's paintings. They're an impressive balance of elegant and lumpen.
Through Aug. 25 at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, 1216 Arch St. 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m Tuesday through Friday; by appointment in August. Information: 215-545-6140 or www.fleisher-ollmangallery.com.
Artspace 1241, a gallery in the artists' studio building at 1241 Carpenter St. in Bella Vista, offers "Sex Symbol," a group show of feminist-minded, occasionally erotic works by women, among them Judy Gelles, Phyllis Gorsen, Nancy Hellebrand in collaboration with Shira Yudkoff, and Ekaterina Popova. Hellebrand and Yudkoff's crinkled inkjet photo print of wrinkled but lipsticked lips, Lips (Kate), and Popova's richly painted scene of a bedroom in the morning after an intimate romp, Home With You, suggest the breadth of this show.
Through Sunday at Artspace 1241, 1241 Carpenter St. Noon to 5 p.m. Friday, other days by appointment. Artist talk 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday. Information: 856-685-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The artist collectives forced out by the recent fire in their building on 11th Street near Callowhill have relocated. Vox Populi, NAPOLEON, Marginal Utility, and AUTOMAT are now holding court in a city-owned building at 990 Spring Garden St., which was offered to them temporarily rent-free.