"Will they continue, expand, or become disillusioned? What did they really learn and what are their lives to be about then?"
As Cowart discovered, the fellowship annuals, which feature work by academy alumni, usually demonstrate that many art-school graduates persevere and continue to grow, even if they don't achieve substantial critical or commercial success.
This year's show, hung in the Gregg Conference Center at the American
College in Bryn Mawr, is an especially strong representation from the academy's local community of former students. The show not only demonstrates how enduring the academy tradition is, it helps to validate figuration and image-based art as a contemporary visual language.
The only problem is location: If only the fellowship could find a permanent, high-profile venue for this show. The American College is a bit out of the way and the conference center doesn't have a gallery per se - the show is hung in corridors and stairwells.
As a result, a visitor must resolutely track down all the works, some of which are in the center's dining room. And eight artists have been relegated to a small room on an upper floor, apparently because the content of their art was deemed troublesome.
The academy makes a big fuss every year out of its annual student show. Perhaps it should make just as big a fuss over the art produced by its alumni, which is not only more accomplished but symbolic of a dedication to the cultural and historical role of art that Cowart found noteworthy.
Gregg Conference Center, the American College, 270 S. Bryn Mawr Ave., Bryn
Mawr. Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 24. Phone: 610-526-1100.
WOODMERE ART MUSEUM. The exhibition at Woodmere Art Museum of prints by Jack Gerber and Joanna Klain proves that traditional craftsmanship and subject matter haven't become passe, despite the proliferation of novel graphic techniques and media.
Gerber's prints are color lithographs pulled from a stone, while Klain's are black-and-white etchings, some of which sport accents of opaque red gouache. Their respective subject matter likewise indicates a desire to express fundamental states of human behavior and activity.
Gerber's general theme is the "carnival of life" - images that can be read literally or allegorically. They're strongly European in mood, especially in their use of circus themes and characters. Gerber composes by packing the frame, compressing his blocky figures into complex configurations.
His bold delineation of the figure tends toward a caricature of human types, but the images aren't comic. Rather, they remind me a bit of crowd scenes by the painter Balthus - superficially true to life but also a bit strange.
Klain's images are also symbolically narrative, but seemingly drawn more
from imagination and dreams than from observation. They feature women in reflective situations that might be dreams or stylized encounters.
Frequently, two figures occupy the same space but decline to engage each other; rather, they look in opposite directions. In the print called The Visit, the women are actually facing each other, but they avoid each other's gaze.
This metaphor for isolation and separation is particularly powerful when the figures face away from each other; the symbolism could refer to time as well as place.
Klain is especially preoccupied with the emotional life of women, which she occasionally expresses though overt fantasy. For instance, the participants in Wish You Were Here are two women in a room and two lions and a giraffe on the lawn outside. Moonlight for Giotto is another print that suggests a mood of escapism, or perhaps its opposite, imprisonment.
Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 26. $3 suggested donation.Phone: 215-247-0476.
FIREHOUSE ART CENTER. "Reflections of the Spirit," an exhibition of prints by African American women at the Firehouse Art Center, offers a broad spectrum of interests and techniques. While guest curator Judith Wilson of Yale University observes that the show doesn't have a political agenda, some prints raise political and social issues.
For instance, Camille Billops' vibrant and sassy prints deflate offensive racial attitudes and stereotypes with elan and style. Valerie Maynard's Send the Message Clearly is a much more pointed commentary on social and political issues.
In the middle ground, we find Gwen Knight Lawrence's image of a mother and child, a traditional subject treated as a gentle assertion of racial pride. Alison Saar's Black Snake Blues seems to be a comment on personal relationships.
Much of the work raises only aesthetic banners. Lois Mailou Jones is presented by a simple landscape with house, Selma Burke by a gridded image called Gossipping Gourds. Phyllis Thompson's Carrot Cakewalk is a pure abstraction.
The point of this exhibition seems clear enough: Artists follow their own stars. Sometimes they travel in predictable directions but often they don't. The true common denominator here isn't race but skill and commitment.
Firehouse Art Center, 730-32 S. Broad St. Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Through Feb. 4. Phone: 215-546-3675.