The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s small Horace Pippin exhibition “From War to Peace,” tucked away in Gallery 208 in the museum’s American wing, consists of just six works from the PMA collection, but it is profoundly moving.
Here is a 1945 study for his painting The Barracks, showing the poor living conditions endured by Pippin and his fellow soldiers while serving in World War I in the 369th Infantry Regiment, an African American division. Like all of Pippin’s paintings reconstructing his service in the war, it was done from memory, and this recollection of sleeping and mending clothes by candlelight was clearly an indelible one.
Pippin’s portrayal of social injustice in his 1943 painting Mr. Prejudice was dangerously outspoken for its time, with a diverse cast of characters including a hooded Ku Klux Klan member, white and black uniformed servicemen (the artist among them, with a wounded arm), an integrated pair of machinists, a muscular white man holding a noose, and a black doctor.
Chester County Art Critic (Portrait of Christian Brinton), from 1940, is a portrait of the local writer and collector typically credited with “discovering” Pippin’s art in the window of a West Chester shoe-repair store. It is one of Pippin’s most masterful portraits, depicting the nattily dressed Brinton as the impresario he was said to be.
Pippin’s ability to express solitude is striking, and The Park Bench is the most achingly lonely of all of his works. In it, a man sits alone on a park bench, looking lost in thought. The leaves on the trees are turning orange. Nearby, a ghostly white squirrel is poised on its haunches, probably enjoying an acorn. A dark sky says it’s time to go home. It was made in 1946, the year Pippin died.
Also in the show is The End of War: Starting Home, circa 1930, which despite its optimistic title depicts a surprise attack on German troops, bombs exploding, and a flaming fighter plane in a nose dive. It also features the only frame made by Pippin that’s known to exist, embellished with hand-carved gas masks, guns, hand grenades, and other tools of war.
The sixth work is The Getaway (1939), Pippin’s painting of a fox escaping with its prey through a snowy landscape, possibly putting his own plot twist on Winslow Homer’s 1893 painting The Fox Hunt, from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts collection.
Ongoing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sun., with evening hours until 8:45 p.m. Weds. and Fri.; closed Mondays, open New Year’s Day. 215-763-8100 or philamuseum.org.
Even if you haven’t seen Lucite in years, you’re likely to recognize it as the main ingredient in Michelle Benoit’s vividly colored wall constructions, on view in her solo show at Pentimenti Gallery.
Benoit cuts pieces of reclaimed colored Lucite and sandwiches them together to create multilayered works that appear to be illuminated when seen from the side. She also combines plywood with Lucite in works that are reminiscent of architectural models.
The color schemes for her constructions are borrowed from the walls of her parents’ house. “Each hue represents a time frame in that home,” Benoit says.
Pentimenti also has a group show of eye-catching ceramic works by Michael Boroniec, Michal Fargo, and Lauren Mabry. Fargo’s mysterious stoneware-and-fiber works resemble coral formations, with velvety surfaces. You’ll have to resist touching them.
Through Jan. 18 at Pentimenti Gallery, 145 N. Second St., noon-5 p.m. Tues. and Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Weds.-Fri. 215-625-9990 or pentimenti.com.
If you can, check out Brooke Lanier Fine Art’s “Fluid Dynamics,” featuring water-inspired paintings and photographs by Geoffrey Agrons, Sebastien Leclercq, Deborah Weiss, and Lanier herself. It’s a sophisticated effort for a still-fledgling gallery.