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    Philadelphia Story
by Roberta Fallon
 
     
 
Cornelia Parker
Pornographic Drawing
1997
at the Philadelphia ICA
 
"Pornographic Drawings"
 
Cornelia Parker
Thirty Pieces of Silver
1989
 
Jeremy Blake
Guccinam
1999
at the Pennsylvania Academy
 
Joan Miró
People at Night
1940
in "When Reason Dreams" at the Philadelphia Museum
 
Nadia Hironaka
Aquarium
2000
in "Fleisher Art Memorial Challenge"
at the Fleisher Art Memorial
 
Hale Allen
Crane
1999
in "Fleisher Challenge"
at the PMA
 
Mira Gobel
Emma
1999
in "Fleisher Challenge"
at the PMA
 
Thomas Nozkowski
Untitled
1988
 
Monika Bravo
"Symphasis: Simultaneous Appearances"
2000
(detail)
at Temple University's Tyler Gallery
 
Kristin Lucas
"Temporary Housing for the Despondent Virtual Citizen"
2000
at the ICA
 
Kimberly Gremillion
Shadow #48
2000
at the Print Center
in "Dark Edges"
 
Hanna Hannah
Game 9
2000
at Schmidt-Dean Gallery
 
Philadelphia's line-up of dreamy, visionary exhibitions this fall is enough to make you wonder who sprinkled the fairy dust over the muddy old Schuylkill River.

Dreamy objects
First off, at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) are the poetic curiosities of British artist Cornelia Parker, Sept. 15-Nov. 17, 2000, in her first American mid-career museum exhibition. Many of these wondrous objects, which tend to be everyday things that have been dramatically transformed, are displayed in glass vitrines, so that they propel you into a kind of dreamy "Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum."

Parker's "feather" series includes a feather from Freud's pillow, a feather from Ben Franklin's attic, a feather that went to the top of Mount Everest, etc. If this doesn't tickle your fancy, there are her funny, subversive "Pornographic Drawings." Done with ink made from dissolved pornographic videotapes seized by British Customs, the "suggestive" Rorschach ink blobs clearly put the titillation in the eye of the beholder.

Parker's work is infused with a sense of play, and in fact the artist, who introduced her work in a gallery talk, has the cheery presence of a Girl Scout in search of more merit badges. She clearly loves being the fly in the bureaucratic ointment, most famously having worked with the British army to explode her famous shed in 1991 for Cold Dark Matter. The imprint of her exuberant hunt for the artist's "trophies" is all over this exhibition.

Of her larger and darker works, Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson) is the show-stopper. This cube-like floating installation made of charred bits of wood from a torched building is like a giant snowstorm-noir caught in suspended animation. Beautiful and haunting, with chilling undertones of death and resurrection, it's the best meditation in the show.

Nearby, the steamrollered silver plates, knives and candlesticks of the installation Thirty Pieces of Silver is the saddest display of wedding gifts you've ever seen. These thrift shop objects, hanging by wire from the ceiling in 30 table-sized ghostly arrays near the floor, are like 30 reveries of squashed dreams, evil betrayals and loss.

Trippy videos
A different, far trippier excursion takes off at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with Jeremy Blake's digital video works. The first solo museum outing by the California-educated, New York-based artist features two new video works and a group of digital c-prints. The video projection Guccinam, 2000, is seven and one-half minutes of extreme cyber-video atmospherics -- and content, to boot.

In the projection, beautiful, impressionistic hazes lift to be replaced by candy-colored industrial-looking curtains -- which part mechanically on a gorgeous, baroque backdrop. Both ominous and mesmerizing, the backdrop is made of a camouflage pattern manipulated to look like eyes or mouths or whatever.

The only real action in the abstract theatrical romp comes from a rather odd group of characters -- a penis-like image of an industrial-plated shaft and three "tiny time-capsule-like pills," who tumble in, stage left, and line up glowing and pulsing for an odd, suspenseful tableau.

The video is looped for continuous viewing, and has a growling, rumbling soundtrack. And whether it alludes to Vietnam or to the consumer culture of drugs and fashion, it's a hellish illusion and suffocatingly beautiful. The show's second helping, Blake's Liquid Villa, 2000, screens Oct 9-Nov. 11.

Visionary paper
And up on the art museum hill, the sleep of reason conjures beautiful dreams in a group show of visionary works on paper titled "When Reason Dreams" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. With 59 works spanning two centuries and several continents, this show has loopy logic to burn. Featuring works from the collection by educated and cerebral masters of Surrealism and Dada (Miró, de Chirico, Breton and Duchamp), it also includes the unstudied, raw works of seven self-taught artists (Martin Ramirez, Peter Attie Besharo, Joseph Yoakum, others). And the common denominator is -- visions.

A high point is the big incantatory painting of a man-dog and the moon, titled Spell of the Moon, by Cuban artist Jose Bedia, placed opposite a large, noisy animal-rights piece with lots of cats, Crucified Cat, by Sue Coe. Not quite a back-alley fight, but it's definitely a high energy dialogue.

Since it's a show of quirky works, there's dark humor, grotesque, cartoony social commentary and beauty with a difference. The exhibition even includes Shaker inspirational drawings by Sarah Bates, quietly obsessive, beautiful works that find their subject in god and religion.

Dreaming with the fishes
The best thing about the Fleisher Art Memorial's latest "Challenge Exhibition," which kicked off the 23rd year of the four-part show of local artists, was the bubbly, simulated video aquarium by Nadia Hironaka that gets the fish-to-man dialogue just about right. With its onward-marching ambiance and soundtrack of human giggles and chortles that rings throughout the galleries, Aquarium, 2000 is the heartbeat of the three-person show.

Hironaka, one of 12 artists chosen from a pool of 269 to show in Fleisher galleries this year, has made a beautiful video soup with her montage of overlapping, slow and stop-motion video, and viewer-inclusive, "we are all together" fish-man ingredients.

Nostalgia is the darker pleasure found in the paintings and photographs of the show's other two artists. Hale Allen's oil paintings of the oversized machinery of industry -- the rock grinders, oil processers and car crunchers of northern New Jersey's industrial landscape -- are backward-looking beauties. And you may hate the subject but you'll love the almost abstract paintings.

Mira Gohel's sad, sweet black and white photographs catch children and an old, gray-whiskered dog at their unstudied best.

Brain teasers
Painter Thomas Nozkowski's friendly abstractions at Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery please the eye and tickle the mind. With their biomorphic shapes, loopy grids and unexpected colors, this New York painter with long ties to the Philadelphia art community, builds up lush, painterly portraits of ... well, therein lies the fun.

Just what Nozkowski is portraying in the untitled drawings dating from 1982 through the present is not exactly spelled out. But the easel-sized works contain great distillations of the world in them and they're like beautiful, abstract puzzles.

Here's a landscape that's like a golf course, there's a house with five thought bubbles coming out of it. Here are leopard spots like islands in a river, and there is a slime-green alien girl who contains and is contained by big red dots. Hmmm.

Let your mind wander with your eye, and you'll figure it all out.

Dreaming with the fishes, II
In what must be millennial serendipity, Philadelphia has a second video aquarium in residence this month. "Symphasis: Simultaneous Appearances" by Colombian artist Monika Bravo sits across town at Temple University's Tyler Gallery. Bubble on.... In the Project Room, one of Philadelphia's premier alternative sites, Michelle Oosterbaan's colored tape drawings zoom across funny chartreuse and dark brown walls and imply a world of related systems. As for chartreuse, Beverly Semmes has made eye-popping fabric mountains that color at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, in her punning installation, "Watching Her Feat."

And for light-hearted games, Kristin Lucas' interactive, multi-media extravaganza, "Temporary Housing for the Despondent Virtual Citizen," sits upstairs from Cornelia Parker at the ICA waiting for visitors to play with it. Let the games begin. And for some fun with a camera, a three-person show at the Print Center, Philadelphia's premier venue for photography and printmaking, features black and white works by Sandy Sorlien, Andrew Borowiec and Kimberly Gremillion ... Ending up on the darker side of things, the beautiful bunnies in Hanna Hannah's graphite powder drawings at Schmidt-Dean gallery lie limp (dead?), perhaps victims of a hunt, perhaps symbols of innocence destroyed by deadly games.


ROBERTA FALLON is an artist and writes on art for Philadelphia Weekly.