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Curiously strong survey


For a tasty little survey of what’s happening in the art world right about now (although the show is short on digital media), go visit the Sixth Annual Altoids Collection showing at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ Morris Gallery.

It’s also nice to see locals Clare Rojas (top, “2×2”) and Paul Swenbeck as part of this show, because here they are in the famously retrograde Philadelphia, in the famously retrograde Academy, showing work that’s as hip as possible.

demaraygoodbaseballrocksI enjoyed almost everything on display, but there were some standouts in my eye. In sculpture, Elizabeth Demaray‘s “Good Baseball Rocks” invited holding and shuffling. The weight of the rocks, the hand of the leather, the meticulous baseball stitching, the suggestion of violence and hopscotch all in the same breath were winners.

demarstreetlampiiRob DeMar‘s “Street Lamp II,” a flocked highway-through-the-pines on-a-stick had moderne auto and aviation styling. It was a wow of detail and design for the road to nowhere.


And asianpunkboy‘s rhinestone-handled switchblade, “Untitled 8 (Grease Switchblade),” put me in mind of Sanford Biggers’ bling-bling “Nanchakus” from the “Black Belt” show at the Studio Museum in Harlem (see my post on that show). The white-painted blade defanged the lethal weapon, moving it into an inconic pure nostalgia.

And speaking of “Black Belt,” artist Iona Rozeal Brown from that show was also here, with one of her elegant takes on FuBu-sporting Asian-style blacks. Another piece that brought that show to mind was Wangechi Mutu‘s “A Feathered Side Thought,” an ink and collage on mylar that looked like an African-American transvestite on peyote.

iqbalshadows“Shadows,” a huge acrylic on paper painting by Mala Iqbal is a terrific take on the neighborhood, its row of little houses looking charming as they blur in the distance, but up close the stylized woodgrain picket fence is in bad shape, crudely repaired with a conglomeration of boards. The pattern of the sycamore tree’s bark, the looming shingle pattern all have a touch of looming threat.

This painting, like DeMar’s trippy traffic stick and Swenbeck’s strange hatchet piece make me think we’ve got a lot of young artists influenced by the dark menace of the woodblock prints that go with Grimm’s Fairytales. There’s a teutonic gothic thread here that makes me shudder–with delight.

davidsonuntitledaltoidsAnn Craven‘s highly decorative “Pecker on Pink” seemed not so interesting next to the Rojas’ “2×2” which had its mysterious subtext to carry the image along further, and next to that, Daniel Davidson‘s existential cartoon of a little man victimized by his own jury-rigging. (In case you’re wondering about the bars in the upper left of this image and the next one, they are reflections of the lights overhead in the gallery.)(For more on Craven, see Roberta’s post on a show of hers that we saw in New York.)

zellerisolatedoutputStill in the realm of drawing, I was also taken by Daniel Zeller‘s “Isolated Output,” a topographical-looking mapscape, the rivers like rends in the fabric of the earth’s skin. Stitches tie the splits together and talk to the tiny hatch marks of the landscape. I felt that piece talking to the “Good Baseball Rocks” across the room, perhaps because of the stitches and the earth-in-need-of-repair subtexts.

Plenty of other interesting work was in the show, and if you want to preview more of it, here’s a gallery Web site with complete images.

The show came here via PAFA’s Curator of Confemporary Art Alex Baker–he who curates what the Morris Gallery shows. Baker was on the committee that selected this year’s art for the Curiously Strong Collection. Altoids has been collecting this way since 1998.