Galleries: Excellent exhibition fills the Abington Art Center

Tobi Kahn's "Ytaka (study)," at Works on Paper Inc. Two museums also are showing his work.
Tobi Kahn's "Ytaka (study)," at Works on Paper Inc. Two museums also are showing his work.
Posted: November 11, 2012

Only two weeks remain to see one of the most sublime exhibitions of the fall season.

"Winifred Lutz: Between Perception and Definition," the first large survey of the works of Lutz, a Philadelphia-based artist, has the entire Abington Art Center to itself and also includes the poetic site-specific outdoor installations she has been making in the center's sculpture park since 1992.

At first, the indoor component of the survey appears to be one large multipart work consisting of groupings of natural objects and ones made by Lutz. It's a supremely elegant installation. There are no labels on the walls. A map and checklist provided by Lutz do identify the works as individual sculptures, however, and you realize that she has orchestrated this non-hierarchical presentation knowing that visitors probably will take a walk through the galleries before checking the dates and materials of each work. The absence of labels also has the effect of making her neutral-colored sculptures appear to float in space (several do, in fact, hang from the ceiling or project from walls). It leaves one's eye undistracted by anything other than her work.

Most of Lutz's sculptures incorporate elements of cast paper, which may also account for their floating quality. Even a sculpture such as 1987's Epiphenomenon (Phase Transition), in which two joined hollow paper castings project upward from a hefty-looking section of a paulownia log (imagine a huge, old-fashioned loudspeaker lying partly on the ground), looks as if it could become airborne.

Her sculptures typically engage two or more parts, at least one being a found object that, while entirely abstract, can have the startling impact of a Robert Gober sculpture. Her Inverted on a Stone/Yellow Tongue is an arrangement of the bent trunk of an ailanthus sapling positioned vertically on a stone, looking as though it is inspecting a small yellow tongue projecting from the wall. The "tongue" is just a dried drip of wood glue combined with a piece of translucent bleached flax paper stained yellow, but it's unsettling nonetheless.

When I visited Lutz's survey, Sandy had just blown through, wreaking havoc on the woods surrounding the artist's latest outdoor site-integrated installation, "Once Was," but her recent reclamation of the former Rosenwald estate's swimming pool and stone pool house was still readily apparent.

The pool, filled in with concrete when the estate was given to Abington Township in 1969 and subsequently overrun by nature, now contains a neat rectangle of shrubs and weeds. Lutz cleared its surrounding bluestone paving of debris and dirt, but left intact the thick tree vines that invaded the site, as visceral reminders of nature's power over the built environment. She has also covered the boarded-up doors of the pool house with the bark from a fallen poplar that was a sapling in 1933, when the pool house was built. "Once Was" is the kind of subtle collaboration with history and nature that Lutz does to perfection.

Lutz's exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with essays by the show's curator, Janet Koplos, and Richard Torchia, Mina Takahashi, and Carol Franklin.

Abington Art Center, 515 Meetinghouse Rd., Jenkintown, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m to 8 p.m. Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Sculpture park open daily during daylight hours. A $5 donation is suggested. 215-887-4882 or Through Nov. 25.

Tobi Kahn, all over

Since beginning his career in New York in the late 1970s, Tobi Kahn has never strayed far from the painting style he developed early, in which compositions of smooth interlocking forms hint at aerial views of land and sea. But since the mid-1980s Kahn also has been making Jewish ceremonial objects that suggest a similarly spiritual bent as that seen in his paintings (he has given his paintings Hebrew titles for more than 20 years).

Two Philadelphia Jewish museums concur. Kahn currently has a survey, "Immanence: The Art of Tobi Kahn 1987-2012," of paintings and ceremonial objects at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, including the model for a meditation room he designed for the Healthcare Chaplaincy in New York City in 2001. His series of 33 paintings of sky and water make up the installation "RIFA: Sky and Water Paintings," at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Additionally, the commercial gallery Works on Paper Inc. is showing Kahn's small abstractions of aerial views painted between 1991 and 2011, which, seen together, reveal the full sum of his explorations into form, color, and the ineffable.

Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sundays. 215-627-6747 or Through Dec. 5.

National Museum of American Jewish History, 101 S. Independence Mall East, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 215-923-3811 or Through Dec. 30.

Works on Paper Inc., 1611 Walnut St., 11 a.m to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 215-988-9999 or Through Thursday.

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