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Into the void on a steamy Friday night


Vox Populi was under-populated when Bay and I ran in to see Charles Hobbs, Bill Lohre, Jennifer Macdonald and guest artist Nils Karsten‘s works. (top image is detail of piece by Hobbs)

In fact, the gallery was locked since folks were at the save the arts rally. Luckily we shared the elevator up with Vox’s Olivia Schreiner who had the keys. Schreiner who had her pooch in tow, a small, tail-waggish beagle whose name escapes me at the moment, let us in. We were followed by Justin Witte who was bringing in the kegs for the night’s opening party.

Anyway, Vox is full of voids this month. Voids of space in prints and paintings, holes in sculptures, and while I’m not sure this is a Big Nothing event, the works are all existential in nature.

In the front space, Charles Hobbs had a room of painted fiberglass objects (top and next two images)that were some of the nicest 3-D works in a Philadelphia gallery I’ve seen of late. (Sculpture has always been a Vox strong suit, I’ll add here.)

A few knee-high painted faux tree trunks sat on the floor. And hanging — and swaying — in the space around them were what looked like floating tree knots. That is they looked like tree knots from one side. From the other they had open maws with rock-like teeth and Spanish moss-like stringy things hanging down. “Vagina dentata,” said Bay.

You bet, but also microcosmic caves and maybe mouths, too. The objects themselves looked like they were wood or maybe clay but they were almost paper thin so you knew they were neither. The painted patterns, which included stars and stripes, were quite beautiful. The overriding motif of holes, voids and knots wed to stars and other patterns evoked mysticism and the magic of the forest. This is Hobbs’ first solo exhibit with Vox.

Bay noticed that Hobbs’ faux tree stumps were 3-D cousins of Justin Witte‘s white on white tree stumps in a screen print in the front room. (The nice-sized print, with small tree stumps and other imagery in voids of space is part of the Vox Box portfolios (a fund-raising endeavor, the boxes, of which there are a number available, cost $250–a bargain. Check out Vox’s website for more.)

Schreiner told us that the paint on Witte’s print, which had a slight 3-D quality to it, was fabric paint that puffs up when you iron it. Low tech puff paint is especially endearing in a work that had a lot of high art ambiance. I’m sorry I don’t have an image. I didn’t even try to photograph it. You’ll have to go look.

Bill Lohre‘s installation “Forbidden Icing” (image above left and right are details), which included some bales of hay, was a little creepy but interesting, to say nothing of fragrant. Walking into the space, I initially mistook a very realistic manikin for a child. The manikin faces the wall, birds coming out of its mouth. The installation — which seemed to be about excess — unfolded in a spiral, the eye travelling from the child-manikin to wall to which it was connected to the bales of hay to the wall behind and back to the child.

The pieces were discrete but interlocking in some dark, mysterious cyclical way. The idea of telling a story in an almost linear fashion is exciting — the whole thing had the ambiance of a child’s pop up book. But the fragrance of the hay was offputting in the windowless room.

And while the wall collage made of beer cans (I believe) and metal medallions from the tops of wine bottle corks was a knockout and reverberent on many levels, the manikin was so over the top goth that it kind of took away from the rest. Press material says Lohre’s work is responding to the abundance of violence present in today’s world.

Jennifer Macdonald‘s suite of paintings, titled “Too _____ to tell you” depicts animal-headed humans standing, walking and not quite interacting in voids of space. The ink, enamel and latex paintings on Mylar are pinned to a strip of wall painted brown so the background color of the works is a kind of vaguely brown-beige. (My camera says the background’s orange in one of these works but don’t believe it. The color is beige.) (image above and below)

The press release says Macdonald’s characters are a reference to film stills and show un-pornographic 1960’s-esque menage a trois situations. The series title pays homage to Bas Jan Ader‘s “I’m too sad to tell you.” (Ader’s work is in the ICA Big Nothing show.)

I did an immediate double take with these fuzzy, hard to read images. They reminded me a lot of Rosalyn Drexler‘s noirish works only without the hot, pop colors.

I particularly like the frog-headed men. Somehow that clear reference to the fairy tale land of princes and princesses took the work somewhere I cared to go.

As for the un-porno menage a trois stuff, I can’t say I picked up on it. What I got was an overall edginess and a story with spooks and — like in Andy Warhol’s 12-hour long reality videos — no ending, no story arc, just a hell of repetition.

In the fourth room, guest artist Nils Karsten‘s large drawings of monumental children’s heads (image) had the porn angle going. Here in these breathlessly-urgent portraits, mouths become vaginas and hair is fetishisized to death. These are disturbing almost demonic looking images.

Smaller works, which look like sketchbook pages, are more lyrical but they, too, have a weird and violent undertone. The German-born artist now lives and works in New York.

The ambiance of Karsten’s drawings reminded me of much of the work in “Creative Consumption” at Rosenwald Wolf Gallery. Karsten has a whole room full of work at Vox.

At Gallery Joe he’s represented by work that seemed somewhat tamer — there was no scribble-scrabble on the page and the work was far more delicate both in presentation and in touch. (images left, right, left above are Karsten’s drawings. Left is at Gallery Joe)

The work at Vox — and I don’t think it’s just the scale of the big heads — is scary, feeling just this side of wild.

Sated by the void, Bay and I headed out to Gallery Joe for more — art not void we hoped.

Walking up Arch St. we passed the Bookmobile (image), also known as Mobilivre, parked in front of Space 1026 which reminded me that the airstream hits the road any day now bringing artists’ books to the underserved. See their website for schedule of stops.


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