Philagrafika Projects is making its debut at the Icebox Project Space with "Due North," a group show organized by artist/curator Marianne Bernstein and uniting works by 13 Icelandic and 13 American (mostly Philadelphia-based) artists that reimagine the idea of "north."
Actual depictions of cold places are rare in this exhibition. More often than not, works suggest the effects of a northern environment, or simply possess a distinctively chilly character.
Some standouts from the Icelandic contingent include Rúri's "Future Cartography III," three monumental maps (made in collaboration with geographer Gunnlaugur M. Einarsson) that project the future shrunken shorelines of Iceland and America; Magnus Sigurdarson's "Contained Storm I" and "Contained Storm II," two pedestal-mounted, eerily-lit Plexiglas boxes in which tiny Styrofoam balls are continuously propelled by an unseen fan, as if in a blizzard; and Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir's startling "Sun," a huge ball of synthetic hair suspended from the ceiling.
The Americans are represented largely by prints. Cindi Ettinger's etchings on plaster, "Geological Portrait: Huld (obscure secret)" and "Geological Portrait: Asfridur (divine beauty)," are especially sublime.
There also are photographs taken in Iceland by Julia Staples and Diane Burko, and two four-channel video projections by David Scott Kessler and Rebeca Méndez shown alternately on a wall in the back gallery, both of which were also shot in Iceland. (Mesmerizing as they are, they apparently require that overhead lights be turned off, making it difficult to see other works in that room.)
On a monitor in the front gallery is another Kessler video, "Lopapeysa," involving curious goings-on in a village in Iceland. It is one of the show's most mysterious and remarkable works.
The brilliant artist Nancy Graves (1939-1995), a Vassar and Yale graduate who in 1969 became the youngest woman artist to be given a solo retrospective by the Whitney Museum, never met a material she couldn't bend to her will (or whimsy).
She went her own way, too. She was moved more by history and the physical world than by the vagaries of art-world tastes, from those early life-size camels shown at the Whitney, to her majestic films, to her late polychrome assemblages of found objects and plants cast in bronze.
Still - possibly because Graves was such a prolific artist - there are works that have not been exhibited in decades. Among them are the paintings now on view at Locks Gallery that Graves made in the late 1970s and early 1980s, marking both a return to and departure from her Lunar Orbiter Series. She began the series in 1972, inspired by USGS and NASA moon maps used to scout for Apollo landing locations.
In the nine large paintings in Locks' downstairs gallery, Graves uncharacteristically left large areas of canvas untouched, making her awkwardly drawn, bright-colored (yellow, blue, red) gestures stand out all the more against their white-gray backgrounds. They suggest topographical maps, but also notes to herself written in haste, if her formula might be lost at a slower pace.
The paintings that make up "Dramatic Play," Nick Cassway's second one-person show at James Oliver Gallery, are portraits of children and grownups caught in moments of play. They are made using computer-cut stencils derived from drawings based on Cassway's snapshots of said subjects, and are punchier than earlier paintings. This is due partly to his bold color and gold-leafing, but mainly to the more interesting facial expressions and postures he has captured in his recent work. ("The Choir," however, a series of small portraits of children making their usual faces, is too much like an exercise or psychological study.)
The two stars of this show are his tiny portrait of a man with an imperious nose, "The Critic" - instantly recognizable to those who have met him as local artist/writer/musician James Rosenthal - and the monumental wall painting "Russian Party," his only work in black and white. Both recall British artist Michael Andrews' paintings of parties from the 1960s, minus the debauchery.