Galleries: Steven Baris navigates a new venue

Jordan Kasey's painting "Full Face," one of his paintings in "From Joy to Terror" at the Delaware art center.
Jordan Kasey's painting "Full Face," one of his paintings in "From Joy to Terror" at the Delaware art center.
Posted: August 26, 2013

Those who have only seen Steven Baris' paintings on panel and Plexiglas in his one-person shows at Philadelphia's Pentimenti Gallery may be surprised to see how skillfully he has navigated the entirely different proportions and lighting of his exhibition space in the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. His exhibition there, "Exurban Archipelago," organized by DCCA curator Maiza Hixson, runs through Nov. 11.

The familiar environs of Pentimenti are low-ceilinged, evenly lit rectangular rooms; they echo the forms in Baris' work, which are borrowed from the architecture and exurban sites of big-box stores and distribution centers, as well as from the actual rectangular dimensions of his works. (He often makes multi-panel rectangular pieces.)

The DCCA, on the other hand, is not in any way a natural fit for Baris. Its smaller interior galleries are steeply vertical and illuminated in such a way that the tops of walls and corners of rooms are cloaked in shadow. They're great for single sculptures that shine in dramatic lighting or for hoary works enhanced by a crepuscular dimness, but works like Baris', that demand clarity, can suffer. The smaller of his pieces, such as two delicate, maplike oil-on-mylar paintings from his "Geometries of Flow" series and his rectangular three-panel archival pigment print Fructon & Dupont, close to the entrance of the gallery, are overwhelmed by their surrounding space and gloom.

Then, suddenly, Baris pulls out all the stops with a wall painting of solid black and turquoise big-box shapes on a pale pink field that takes up the longest wall in the gallery. A monumental, lemon yellow-chartreuse green oil painting with Baris' requisite big-box forms in it - all in black this time - hangs on the opposite wall. In between this sensory overload of color and scale, Baris' digital print of a game, Take a Load Off, in fluorescent pink, orange, and green, occupies a large table. When I was there, a young couple were seated at the table, completely absorbed in the game, moving plastic trucks along routes from one distribution center to another. A video combining two views of a group of centers near New Castle, Del. (one taken by satellite, the other filmed from a moving car) plays nearby, adding to the action.

Here, the room's shadowy edges make Baris' colors pop. You are simultaneously reminded of the addiction to buying and the emptiness that feeds rampant consumerism.

Hixson is also the curator of a concurrent group show at the DCCA, of works by 10 current or recently Baltimore-based artists. "From Joy to Terror," running through Oct. 20, looks and feels like a mini-Whitney Biennial. The Baltimore of John Waters also resonates in this uniformly colorful, idiosyncratic, over-the-top work. It's frequently hard to tell where one piece ends and the next begins.

Some standouts include Jordan Kasey's large-scale paintings of huge human heads - one composed of rocks and another filled with crawling sea creatures - that recall Salvador Dali; Tony Labate's ink-and-colored pencil drawings marking Barack Obama's inauguration and Michelle Obama's 49th birthday in his distinctively primitive, elongated style; and Hannah Brancato's sprawling installation of used clothing, a sewing machine, hanging quilts, and more that invites audience participation through submissions of clothes (bring some!) and writing a memory of one's donated item on a piece of fabric that will be attached to a quilt.


Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, 200 S. Madison St., Wilmington, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 12 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays. Information: 302-656-6466 or www.thedcca.org

August abstraction

Douglas Witmer, known here and elsewhere for his own abstract paintings and painted constructions, has organized a summery show of other people's abstract paintings for Tiger Strikes Asteroid, aptly titled "Ice Water Flyswatter."

Only one of the artists is from Philadelphia, several have international reputations, and most of the paintings are small: a lithe white doodle riff on modernism on a green field by Cary Smith (Connecticut); various geometric shapes and compositions by Mark Wethli (Maine), Paige Williams (Ohio), and Alain Biltereyst (Belgium); and a pale blue-and-white poured painting by Mary Bucci McCoy (Massachusetts).

Donald Martiny (Chapel Hill) looms over the show figuratively and literally with his huge, deliciously tangerine Yukpa. Formed from pigmented polymer and shaped vaguely like a giant comma made with a broom, it suggests the motion of a fly swatter in action. Philadelphia-based Ian White Williams' Like a Still Drink . . ., of cool, shimmering, watery gestures, must be the ice-water chaser.


Tiger Strikes Asteroid, 319a N. 11th St., 2 to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Information: 484-469-0319 or http://philadelphia.tigerstrikesasteroid.com. Through next Sunday.

"Galleries" by Edith Newhall and "Art" by Edward J. Sozanski appear in alternating weeks.

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