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Gifts that keep giving, small works at The Plastic Club, Sketch Club, Vox Populi and Gross McCleaf

Our contributor Pete Sparber sees a number of small works exhibitions, which abound each year at this time of holiday giving. Pete urges you to go look, saying that "among the hundreds of works on display and the rich selection of Philadelphia talent, there are objects of exceptional value that will provide an endless source of mystery and pleasure."

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A good ‘small works’ show can give you a broad view of the talent across an art community. More often than not, among all that diversity, you can find at least a few gems; exceptional work at an exceptionally reasonable price. As we approach the gift-giving season, galleries across the city have opened their doors and walls to small works. To give you a flavor of what we can find in our dear city of Philadelphia we’ll discuss four exhibitions, ranging from polished and established, to experimental and down right cheap.

The Sketch Club, occupying a lovely building on Camac Street, has been fertile ground for Philadelphia art and artists for over 160 years. This year’s annual “$250 and Under” exhibition is going strong, with more than 120 entries chosen from among 200 submissions. Here’s one favorite from Margaret Montgomery. This crystalline, bright, clear little painting is the work of an accomplished colorist. The price? $90.
Works under $250, The Sketch Club, 235 South Camac Street, Through December 31st

A clear glass bottle containing a lemon and a lime sits on a table top. Three cherries rest directly on the table to the right of the bottle.
Margaret Montgomery, ‘See Through, Lemon & Lime in a Jar’, acrylic on canvas, 13 in. x 13 in. At The Sketch Club

Right down the block, occupying an equally lovely building, we find The Plastic Club. While ‘only’ 125 years old (give-or-take), it has its own story, founded as a place to nurture women artists. Now both Clubs co-exist and continue to thrive, separated only by a thirty second walk. This year The Plastic Club’s ‘Small Worlds’ open call drew more than 170 works. Hung across multiple rooms, there’s a lot to see and discover. One favorite among many is this rich and satisfying little pen-and-ink landscape by Edwin Allen. Bravo to juror Peter Allen Hoffmann, who recognized this work with a Second Place award.

Small Worlds, The Plastic Club, 247 South Camac Street, Through December 28th

his is a landscape showing two groups of trees, one center left, one center right, with a small marshy creek, overgrown with vegetation flowing from the left of the picture, to the foreground.
Edwin Allen, ‘Indian Creek’, Pen & Ink, 9 in. x 11 in. At the Plastic Club

Next is Gross McCleaf. With more than 50 year’s history as one of Philadelphia’s premier commercial galleries, Gross McCleaf serves as home to a stable of established and emerging talent. Their appropriately titled ‘The Gift’ exhibition, departs from the norm of lots of white wall space, in favor of a densely hung show including the full range of their represented and ‘affiliated’ artists. While the prices are higher, there’s an impressive level of virtuosity on display. Among my perennial favorites in Larry Francis. Francis has a bit of magic in his work, giving us images that feel like deja vu…we know these places; their light, their sound and the feel of the air against our skin.
The Gift, Group Exhibition of Small Works, Gross McCleaf Gallery, 127 South 16th Street, Through December 23rd

We are looking down a broad, mostly empty boulevard. A few hundred feet ahead is a train trestle crossing the roadway. Beyond the trestle, in the distance we see the tops of Philadelphia skyscrapers.
Larry Francis, ‘Two Towers,’ Gouache, 12” x 18” At Gross McCleaf Gallery

For 35 years Vox Populi has served as a focal point for emerging and experimental art and artists in Philadelphia. The exhibition space has that raw energy of a collective making something new and authentic. The ‘Little Windows: $99 artwork’ exhibition offers well over 100 works at under 100 dollars. In fact, the gallery tells me that any unsold work will be half price as of December 1st! What can you get for $99? How about this mysterious little gem by Meghan Cox. It’s an enigma, wrapped in a blanket of soft light.
Little Windows: The Annual $99 Exhibition, Vox Populi, 319 North 11th Street, 3rd floor, Through December 17th

At the center left of the picture we see a blanket draped over what may be a tall, slender wooden cabinet. The blanket and cabinet cast dark shadows on the floor to the right.
Meghan Cox, ‘untitled,’ oil paint on wood panel, 10 in. x 7 in. At Vox Populi

Value is a ratio of what we get over what we pay. In these four shows, and among the hundreds of works on display and the rich selection of Philadelphia talent, there are objects of exceptional value that will provide an endless source of mystery and pleasure. We’ve presented one work from each show, but that could have easily been ten or even one hundred. Come see for yourself.

Additional small works shows

The Small Works Show, Powell Lane Arts, 6 Powell Lane, Collingwood, NJ, Through December 23rd

Perennial Visions V, DaVinci Art Alliance, 704 Catherine Street, Through December 17th


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