Galleries: At Rutgers' Stedman Gallery, compelling works by graphic novelists

"Detroit Pollution" (2012)
"Detroit Pollution" (2012) (by David Small. At the Stedman Gallery at Rutgers-Camden.)
Posted: February 10, 2014

I was halfway across the Ben Franklin Bridge when it struck me: Heading off to see a show in Camden in the middle of the second polar vortex assault wasn't the smartest idea, particularly as I had never been to the Stedman Gallery.

Like many college galleries, it was at somewhat of a remove from visitor parking, but I got lucky. A metered parking space on Third Street, almost directly across from the pathway to the gallery, awaited. So did a provocative show of graphic novels and commix-inspired artworks that will immediately dispel winter doldrums.

Curator Cheryl Harper steered away from the usual commix (co-mixture of text and graphics) suspects when making her selections for "Compulsive Narratives: Stories That MUST be Told, The Graphic Novel as Confession and Inspiration." Instead of featuring Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb, for instance, Harper's exhibition focuses on their lesser-known contemporaries, graphic novelists who were innovators of the 1970s and '80s, but whose work never reached a wider audience.

Among them are Quebecois artist Julie Doucet, associated with the Seattle underground (her ink cartoons from 1989 give new meaning to raunchy); Justin Green, whose 1972 graphic novel Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary inspired Spiegelman to create his Holocaust memoir, Maus; and Carol Tyler, a contributor to the feminist commix "Twisted Sister" and more recently admired for her multivolume novel revealing her father's repressed memories of World War II.

There are also commix by John "Derf" Backderf, including his original comic book, "My Friend Dahmer," a send-up of his childhood friend serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer; Ellen Forney's darkly funny autobiographical ink-on-paper drawings detailing her depression and her installation of her psychiatrist's office; Peter Kuper's cartoons for Mad magazine and his more recent travel sketchbooks; Lance Tooks' drawings of the adventures of his female alter-ego, Narcissa; Gilad Seliktar's illustrations from his book (written by his sister, Galit) Farm 54, on his upbringing in a kibbutz; and Sandy Jimenez's drawings from his comic-book story "Skips" (2001), inspired by the contrasts of poverty and privilege in his life.

David Small's winsome, haunted autobiographical pen-and-ink-wash drawings about events from his 1950s childhood are among the most appealing works in this show.

Interestingly, the artists Harper chose to round out her theme seem less driven by compulsions to tell stories than their commix counterparts - or, perhaps works without words animating similarly gripping images seem less obviously intense.

Hiro Sakaguchi's pastel-colored paintings of imaginary scenes inspired by the sci-fi movies of his childhood in Japan seem most at home in the show, although they - as well as Melissa Stern's ceramic sculptures, Marc Newson's knitted costumes, Arpita Singh's prints, and Marcus Benavides' huge black-and-white woodcuts - ask the viewer to contribute to their narratives. It's a pleasure.

Through April 26 at Stedman Gallery, Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts, Third Street between Cooper Street and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; Thursdays to 8 p.m. 856-225-6242 or

It's uncanny how seemingly seamlessly the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery has been transformed into a vacant strip mall. Or, rather, how Ken Lum's clever constructions - near-facsimiles of those signs at the entrances to suburban malls advertising Chinese restaurants, pizza joints, nail salons, and the like - have transformed a typical white gallery space into an anonymous, slightly derelict mall without making any changes to their site.

Look carefully, though. You see that Lum's creations, produced for him by professional sign makers, are full of blank spaces, signifiers that opportunities exist or that business isn't even close to usual. But however one interprets the signs, they're much handsomer isolated in a white gallery than in front of a mall. The various type styles and vivid colors make an extremely tasty mix. Walker Evans' photographs and Frank Stella's horizontal stripe paintings come to mind.

Hungry for more? Lum, director of the Undergraduate Fine Arts program of the University of Pennsylvania, will show his work in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, opening March 7.

Through Feb. 28 at UArts' Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, 333 S. Broad St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. 215-717-6480 or

Only one week remains to catch Fleisher/Ollman Gallery's "Reprefantasion," in which two pairs of artists abstract the real (Kate Abercrombie and Becky Suss) and depict the unreal (Sarah Gamble and Kinke Kooi).

Abercrombie's gouache-on-paper abstractions of Fortune and Holiday magazine covers and Suss' large and tiny canvases depicting real and imagined images of the interior of her grandparents' house and their art collection, painted in a spartan style reminiscent of Will Barnet, make a stark contrast to Kooi and Gamble's surreal, organic images.

Through Feb. 15 at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, 1216 Arch St., 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. 215-545-7562 or

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

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