A haunting evocation of J.M.W. Turner's life and work

Ellen Harvey's "Arcade/Arcadia," wood, rear-illuminated hand-engraved Plexiglas mirror, at Locks Gallery.
Ellen Harvey's "Arcade/Arcadia," wood, rear-illuminated hand-engraved Plexiglas mirror, at Locks Gallery.
Posted: June 11, 2012

Since the late 1990s, Ellen Harvey has been relating to things and places that the rest of us might consider complete, finished, or even in decline.

In 1999, Harvey began painting delicate, oval-shaped copies of 19th-century landscape paintings atop graffiti-decorated surfaces throughout New York City for her "New York Beautification Project." That few in the art world ever saw the works didn't matter to Harvey — the point was to experience what it would be like to paint illegally, to see how the neighborhood regulars would respond to her quaint insertions, and to learn what constituted "acceptable" art.

Harvey's dramatic, disorienting Mirror of 2005 is a nearly life-size reproduction of the stair hall in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts' historic Frank Furness and George Hewitt-designed building, engraved on the backs of large mirrored panels. To it, Harvey added videos and her own fictional details, transforming the stair hall space into the ancient ruin it might eventually become — her way of one-upping Furness and Hewitt's elaborate Victorian Gothic interior, itself a pastiche of architectural styles of the past.

In Arcade/Arcadia, a work Harvey made in 2011 for the first exhibition held in the Turner Contemporary's new building in Margate, England, and now sublimely situated in the darkened second-floor gallery at Locks Gallery, the artist conjoined elements of J.M.W. Turner's life as a painter with the history of Margate, the seaside resort where he painted and lived with his lover for many years.

Inside a wood frame that mimics the proportions of the London house in which Turner operated his personal gallery in the early 1800s, Harvey has mounted lightboxes displaying her scenes of Margate engraved on mirrors, so that they offer a 360-degree view of the town.

They evoke Turner's own engravings — the medium through which most people knew his work during his lifetime, because his engravings were widely available — but also his arrangements of his paintings in his gallery. At the same time, the reflections of her illuminated mirrors suggest fun-house mirrors, and the large illuminated letters spelling "ARCADIA" on the exterior of her wood structure quickly reference Margate's amusement arcades and somewhat seedy reputation (there may also be a nod here to the British artist Tracey Emin, who also exhibited in the Turner Contemporary inaugural exhibition, and whose unsparing early work sprang from her youth in Margate).

This is a memorably haunting piece that has far fewer bells and whistles than Mirror and does just fine without them.

Locks Gallery, 600 Washington Square South, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays (10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, July and August). 215-629-1000 or www.locksgallery.com. Through July 13.

Subtle works at Pentimenti

The two artists who are having solo shows at Pentimenti handle their respective materials with such subtlety and skill, it's hard to determine how the resulting artworks were made.

Shane McAdams' paintings of vividly colored landscapes are an unusual combination of abstraction and representation. In Synthetic Landscape 59 (Jaundiced Dusk), for example, a sky with unnaturally vertical streaks of color meets a photo-real mountain range, and then continues as a reflection in a lake in front of the mountains. McAdams compares his process to the development of the topography of the Southwest, a comparison that seems apt when you learn that these fastidiously worked images are fashioned with a ballpoint pen, PVC glue, oil paint, acrylic, and resin.

Jacque Liu, who has the larger of the two exhibitions (he also has the gallery's Project Space, a former vault), is showing works from three series, all obviously related to one another, and all abstractions based on his memories of architectural and environmental details.

In his "Ululation" pieces, Liu manipulates Mylar and paper into bas-reliefs of creases and bulges, sometimes employing buttons. Clothing seems an obvious touchstone. By contrast, the works from his "Distend" series juxtapose separate rectangles of Mylar and colored paper, one overlaid on another. These seem more closely related to architecture and minimal abstract painting.

Liu is showing his "Antecedent" series in the Project Space, sculptures assembled from pieces of found vintage decorative wood trim, and two pieces that feature a small wood table as a central part of a mysterious domestic tableau that seems to emerge from the wall behind it.

Pentimenti Gallery, 145 N. 2d St., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. 215-625-9990 or www.pentimenti.com. Through June 30.

‘Mingei-sota' ceramics

Sandy Simon, a Berkeley, Calif.-based potter who learned the tenets of what is now known as theMingei-sota school, which she encountered in the 1960s while studying with Warren MacKenzie and Curt Hoard at the University of Minnesota — and which grew out of their shared appreciation for the Japanese folk tradition Mingei, which honors simplicity and utility — is showing her latest ceramic wares at the Clay Studio.

Those familiar with Simon's signature white porcelain cups and saucers may be surprised by her experiments in green-glazed earthenware. It's a frankly amazing green, and there's no predicting how it will turn out during a firing, which makes each of her bowls, covered jars, casseroles, and other containers a unique object.

Clay Studio, 137-39 N. 2d St., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. Through July 21. www.theclaystudio.org.

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