Creative styles of their own Abstraction is an inspiration at Gallery Siano.

Posted: May 26, 2006

Having recently seen the University of Pennsylvania's annual master-of-fine-arts student show at the Icebox Project Space, as good a litmus test as any of the trends that have currency among young artists, I'd say geometric abstract painting is not the flavor of the moment.

Cartoony, or at least image-driven, work reigns for now, as anyone who visited the Whitney Biennial noticed.

Contrarians might argue, then, that this is an excellent time to be making abstract geometric work. Here is a style, after all, that will never permanently go out of fashion, because so much of the world we know resembles it. Not only is it archaic, as in the art and architecture of the ancient Egyptians and Mayans, it has defined the look of what we think of as classically modern, from a Mondrian painting to an Eero Saarinen pedestal table to an Anna Wintour bob.

But precisely because of the above, geometric abstraction has an increasingly narrow window of opportunity for those who want to make their marks as individuals. Is it even still possible to forge as unique a style as that of Stuart Davis, Ellsworth Kelly, or Philadelphia's own Edna Andrade? I think so, but not without acknowledging the past.

Each of the 17 contemporary painters in Gallery Siano's "ORDER(ed)" has mined art history to one degree or another and come up with a style that is his or her own. Their paintings are not glaringly original, nor do they look as if they're trying to be. It's a good thing, as Martha Stewart used to say.

Laurie Fendrich, for instance, has obviously looked at Burgoyne Diller's and Stuart Davis' abstractions and has developed an intuitive, eccentric way of arranging geometric shapes, the overall effect of one of her works suggesting a cartoony abstraction of a still from a film-noir film - if film-noir films had been in color, that is.

There's a touch of early Frank Stella in Gail Gregg's stripe paintings, but they are small, encaustic on panel, and clearly more intimate than any Stellas. The paintings of Julie Karabenick (who organized this show) and Burton Kramer, which are hung side by side, are the grandchildren of paintings by such American modernists as Ilya Bolotowsky and Charmion von Wiegand. Although I hadn't noticed it before, Steven Baris' paintings of floating rectangles could be distant cousins to those of the modernist Bradley Walker Tomlin.

Ancient and classical architecture seems to have inspired the patterns in the paintings of Cheryl Goldsleger, W.C. Richardson and Grace DeGennaro. The paintings of Vincent Romaniello, Tim McFarlane, and Tremain Smith suggest three entirely different perspectives of the contemporary urban environment.

What I liked most about "ORDER(ed)" is that it has such an unpredictable group of artists. I don't know how Karabenick made her choices - her artists hail from eight states and Canada, and include five Philadelphians - but it was enjoyable trying to imagine the connections she saw and then made and then assembled into a whole. Come to think of it, not too different an enterprise from painting.

Gallery Siano, 309 Arch St., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. 215-629-2940 or Through June 17.

An inspired pairing

Pairing the works of Annabeth Rosen and the Philadelphia Wireman, who are being shown at the Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, was an inspired idea. Works by Rosen, a California-based ceramist, and the Wireman, an anonymous artist who made found-object assemblages, are both notable for being excessively, weirdly ornate on the outside while simultaneously hinting at secret interiors.

Although I know there is nothing inside Rosen's glazed ceramic sculptures, I could easily imagine an alien creature darting out. Almost all of these works bring to mind the head of Medusa in varying degrees, the exceptions being one in the shape of a stomach or gourd, another that looks like an octopus, and a few others like aggregations of sea urchins.

More curiously, considering the other images they bring to mind - in general, they all look as if they were in the process of being devoured by worms - they are stunningly beautiful objects that also look like different types of coral.

The Philadelphia Wireman's fantastic, talismanlike conglomerations of buttons, plastic straws, bottle caps, ballpoint pens and the like definitely have something inside, but you'd have to take them apart to find it. And who would dare do that?

Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, 1616 Walnut St., 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. 215-545-7562 or Through June 10.

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