Galleries: Abstracts draw eyes to gallery's rafters

Posted: March 25, 2013

Of all of the one-person shows I've seen at Gallery Joe, only a few have had the entire gallery to themselves, and, of those, an even smaller number have taken over its main room and vault space as effortlessly as Christine Hiebert's latest abstract drawings do.

Partly it's that Hiebert's drawings are black and gray on white paper, mostly large-scale, and in many cases unframed, a set of conditions that makes it easy to differentiate between the motions contained within individual works. But there is also a Twomblyesque electricity between her gestural charcoal lines and geometric block prints that plays off the austerity and geometry of these white, high-ceilinged rooms.

The decision to hang unframed drawings in the vault space was an especially good idea - in this sometimes-confining space, they suggest Chinese scroll paintings floating in the air, or even windows onto wintry cityscapes in which infrastructure has been partially erased by snow.

Gallery Joe, 302 Arch St., 12 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. 215-592- 7752 or Through April 27.

Bags and stripes

Mark Khaisman has chosen the subjects of his backlit, packing-tape "drawings" carefully, always seeking to reveal a relationship between his humble material and the image it's been manipulated to portray. His newest packing-tape works at Pentimenti Gallery make a stronger contrast than any of his previous series, mainly because their subject - the iconic, sought-after Hermès Birkin handbag, created in the 1980s for the singer Jane Birkin - is as colorful and front-and-center in these works as a celebrity in a Warhol silkscreen.

Illuminated by the wall-mounted lightboxes behind them, Khaisman's emblems of prestige and exclusivity also give the impression of being displayed in an Hermès shop window, luring passersby with their glossy red, green, brown, or yellow leather and shiny gold hardware. But wait - squint, and Khaisman's Birkins look suspiciously like the squares in a Rothko painting. You realize that he's musing on our culture's desire for all rare and expensive objects, the more elusive the better.

Khaisman drives his point home with his installation in the vault gallery: A velvet rope fashioned from packing tape separates you from a packing-tape sculpture of a Birkin bag on a packing tape-covered pedestal. A backlit packing-tape likeness of a Serapi rug "hanging" on the back wall completes this mocking altar to prestige.

From a distance, Anne Lindberg's new works, which make up a smaller one-person show at Pentimenti, seem to be inspired by the stripe paintings of the Washington Color School painter Gene Davis. Close up, they're much more of their own time. Instead of using paint to make her vertical stripes, Lindberg strings colored threads vertically across a support, aligning delicate stripes of color that give the illusion of shimmering depths.

This is clearly exacting, repetitive work - as is much contemporary art that borrows its methods from crafts - and the patience it requires summons thoughts of meditation and physiological systems.

Pentimenti Gallery, 145 N. 2nd St., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. 215-625-9990 or Through April 13.

A Blackburn decade

The painter Morris Blackburn (1902-1979) was a mainstay of Philadelphia's art scene for decades. Blackburn also studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and was a faculty member there, which is why the PAFA Alumni Sales Gallery has partnered with Dolan/Maxwell, a private gallery that has much of the artist's work in its inventory, to present a small survey of Blackburn's paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints.

"Morris Blackburn: PAFA Modernist, Works from 1939-1949" shows the artist moving from the figurative paintings of his youth to the modernist abstraction that marked his mid-career style. Compositions of interlocking curvilinear and biomorphic forms of bold color are evidenced in such works as Orchestration (1945) and Abstraction with Yellow Circle (1946-1947).

But Blackburn never abandons the representational, as proven by his Copland's Appalachian Spring (1947), which suggests a study for a WPA mural. (Tellingly, PAFA has a Blackburn painting, Appalachian Spring I (1946-47) in its collection, that is entirely abstract.)

This tidy, engaging show argues for a more-comprehensive exhibition of Blackburn's work in the future, perhaps including pieces by Arthur B. Carles and Daniel Garber, his most influential painting instructors.

PAFA Alumni Sales Gallery, 118 N. Broad St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. 215-391-4187 or www.pafa/edu/alumnigallery. Through April 21.

Collectors show/tell

There is one week left to catch Vox Populi's appealing and generous show Collection, which gathers some 60 artworks belonging to the collective's members and board members. Appealing, because the works are as quirky and understated as you can imagine; generous, because their owners talk about them in a most personal, unpretentious, and affecting way. (This is where smartphones come in handy - you can click on a work and listen to its owner wax poetic.)

Look for contributions from artist Sarah McEneaney, gallery owner and collector John Ollman, and others.

Vox Populi, 319 N. 11th St., 3rd floor, noon to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. 215-238-1236 or Through next Sunday.

"Art" by Edward J. Sozanski and "Galleries" by Edith Newhall appear on alternating Sundays.

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