In Picasso's hands, a face can be as voluptuous as a nude. Two lithographs from 1947, mounted side by side, both probably early portraits of Françoise Gilot, his consort for nearly a decade and mother of his children Claude and Paloma, demonstrate the power of strong lines and of an image that is all of a piece.
Buste de Jeune Fille, the most graphic of the two, in which the contours of Gilot's face are rendered in one continuous U-shaped line, recalls the directness and simplicity of Matisse's drawing style (Matisse did make a cut-paper portrait of Gilot in 1949).
Strong lines and shapes define Castle's recent pieces, which bring certain surrealist works to mind and look more like sculpture than furniture. Midnight (2010), a black-stained mahogany chest on long insectlike legs, could be a cartoony homage to Louise Bourgeois' spider sculptures, while two mahogany benches with seats shaped like birds suggest an African influence as filtered through surrealism.
Though not fur-covered, and arising from a pedestal, his yellowheart chair, Sun King (2009) has a shape reminiscent of Meret Oppenheim's fur-covered teacup and spoon, Object (Le Dejeuner en fourrure) from 1936. The curved forms in Moonbow (2011), a chair carved from Peruvian walnut, make the closest connection to Picasso.
It's exciting to be able to see a show of this scale and ambition in Old City - and smart of Wexler to put its regulars like Castle into a new context.
Wexler Gallery, 201 N. Third St., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 215-923-7030 or www.wexlergallery.com. Through Feb. 25.
Abstract painting is everywhere in Philadelphia these days; at the same time, the divisions between minimalist, gestural, geometric, and a brand of abstract painting that takes its cues from process art and installation are sharper than ever. Take the works that make up the group shows at Larry Becker Contemporary Art and Tiger Strikes Asteroid, for instance.
Becker's "Eight American Abstract Artists," which gathers works that were recently seen in the American Abstract Artists' 75th anniversary exhibition in the Crane Arts' Icebox gallery, is a show that expresses this gallery's aesthetic to a T (indeed, two of the show's eight artists are represented by Becker). Stripes, grids, zigzags, and various surface textures are deployed in sublime color combinations, most memorably by Stephen Westfall, Thornton Willis, and Merrill Wagner (there is also a lovely little cast-metal sculpture here, by Tom Doyle, perched on a pedestal).
"Twee Abstraction," at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, and curated by TSA member Alex Paik, is composed of nine artists from the younger generation who make every effort to undermine formality. The appearance of a lack of technique is celebrated in these paintings, which often employ fragile found materials and underworked surfaces. A look of abjectness is cultivated.
Three of this show's works hone its ideals particularly well: Jeffrey Scott Mathews' sewn canvas composition of red and white triangles, DLTA SQNC (RED HEX) (2011); Suzanne Goldberg's delicate sculpture of wire, plastic netting and wood, The Lovable Pauper (2011); and Tamara Zahaykevich's Pumpkin Queen (2011), a painted paper-and-foamboard construction that puffs out almost two feet from the wall, and charmingly so.
Larry Becker Contemporary Art, 43 N. Second St., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 215-925-5389 or www.artnet.com/lbecker.html. Through Saturday.
Tiger Strikes Asteroid, 319A N. 11th St., 2 to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. www.TigerStrikesAsteroid.com. Through Sunday.
Down the hall from Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Grizzly Grizzly has "Duett," the collaborative effort of British, Berlin-based artist Alanna Lawley and Philadelphia photographer Matt Giel, made in response to each other's practices as experienced from afar and organized by art writer Becky Hunter.
Lawley and Giel used Internet technologies to communicate across the pond; eventually her appropriations of magazine imagery and his photographs of generic subjects came together in this conceptual melody, an installation that takes over the small gallery with Giel's seascapes coiled, draped, boxed and otherwise displayed with her montages of scans from interior-design catalogs mounted on a four- panel construction.
Grizzly Grizzly, 319 N. 11th St., 2 to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. www.grizzlygrizzly.com. Through Saturday.