Dufala Brothers make the everyday winsome in solo show at Fleisher/Ollman

Posted: April 15, 2012

If there is any trend dominating Philadelphia’s contemporary-art landscape at this moment, it’s the DIY, rough-around-the-edges one epitomized by the work of the Dufala brothers, Steven and Billy, who came to Philadelphia from South Jersey with instinctive talents for retrofitting and reinventing everyday things and infusing them with deadpan, often dark, humor. Their ice cream truck-turned-army tank, winner of the 2009 West Grand Prize, is still their classic of the genre.

For their second solo show with Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, the prolific duo have pulled out all the stops and then some.

The two largest sculptures here — displayed at opposite ends of the gallery — capture the uniqueness of the brothers’ imaginations and their signature economy of means in two entirely different works. Ductwork Curtain, a curtain composed of — what else? — found ductwork, is actually, in its own weird way, a handsome formal sculpture whose round industrial shapes made me think of Fernand Leger’s paintings (they look nothing like Leger’s playful sculptures, however). At the other end of the spectrum (and gallery), the huge pile of filled trash bags stuffed into men’s briefs that constitutes Trash Bags in Underwear summons a deliberately crude send-up of the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ mournful piles of sparkling wrapped candies, elegies to his friends lost to AIDS. As with many Dufala sculptures, this one seems to have sprung from an observance of a variety of mind-sets and politics. It’s simultaneously comical and threatening.

There are too many works in this show, in particular the numerous small sculptures. The Dufalas’ humor is such a central aspect of their work that the jokes start to wear, as too many of anyone’s jokes would (were one to discover these works individually among those of other artists, the gags would be more surprising). Still, a few stand out from the competition. Gonzalez-Torres is again a point of reference in the Dufalas’ small pile of lead M&Ms on a pedestal, Lead M&Ms, a trifle of a piece that’s so deadpan it’s charming. The tiny, distorted stuffed dogs on a wall-mounted shelf, Dog Tchotchkes, are appealing, and reminiscent of the Dufalas’ drastically elongated Chuck Taylor All-Star Converse sneakers of a few years ago. Skull, cast from different-colored toothpastes, is a strategic, amusing Philly-cheapo response to Damien Hirst’s platinum, diamond-studded one, itself a tacky object, but for an oligarch’s taste

The Dufalas draw beautifully, as evidenced in the cloudlike hamburger in Air Burger, but they have yet to put their personal stamp on their drawn work. Ruth Marten and her drawings of hair have been a touchstone, obviously, in their own hair drawings, such as Hair Brain.

A site-specific sculptural installation by the Dufalas can be seen at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art in Wilmington through May 13.

Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, 1616 Walnut St., 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 12 to 5 p.m. Saturdays. 215-545-7562 or www.fleisherollman.com . Through May 12.

Railroad crossing

It’s purely coincidental that the two artists having solo shows at Pentimenti Gallery have both used train-set materials in their pieces, but curious nonetheless, since apparently neither artist knew the other’s work.

Matt Haffner’s cut-paper drawings of urban scenes derived from his childhood memories of growing up in a Midwestern industrial town are as physically handsome as the scenes they depict are shady and mysterious. His Three-Minute Cinema, a camera obscura and mechanical diorama in the gallery’s darkened Project Room, uses miniature architecture, people, and landscaping for train sets to conjure carousels, homemade inventions, and silent films. You expect the Wizard of Oz to pop out from beneath it.

Travers Childers’ train-set landscapes atop bricks address the American penchant for replacing real nature with man-made versions of it, and his use of prefabricated materials is clever. Not all of his “brickscapes” read as fake landscapes, though, possibly because of their small scale.

Pentimenti Gallery, 145 N. Second St., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 12 to 5 p.m. Saturdays. 215-625-9990 or www.pentimenti.com. Through April 30.

Signs and symbols

The painter Jed Williams and the artists/hexologists Hunter Yoder and O. Henrietta Fisher have temporarily traded places, so to speak. Williams, who operates Jed Williams Studio in Bella Vista,is showing his paintings at Yoder and Fisher’s Hex Factory Gallery in Kensington, and Yoder and Fisher are showing their hex sign paintings at Williams’ gallery.

Williams’ colorful mixed-media paintings depict figures and symbols emerging from swirling, expressionistically painted atmospheres. The images and passages in them suggest visions from dreams and also the process of dreaming, of moving from one dream to the next.

Yoder and Fisher’s hex sign paintings on wood are as bright and graphic as you would expect hex signs to be, and brimming with their own personal codes.

Jed Williams Studio, 615 Bainbridge St., 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 267-970-5509 or www.jedwilliamsstudio.com; the Hex Factory Gallery, 2030 E. Cumberland St. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 917-375-4982 or www.thehexfactory.com. Both through May 5.

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