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This art exhibit in the Philly suburbs really nails it, carpenter-style

"Music for 150 Carpenters" at Ursinus College is one of this month's must-sees on the art-gallery scene. Two more: a Jim Lee show at Larry Becker Contemporary and pets galore at Cerulean Arts.

"Music For 150 Carpenters" at the Berman Art Museum began as a live performance in October and is now a compelling surround-sound installation piece.
"Music For 150 Carpenters" at the Berman Art Museum began as a live performance in October and is now a compelling surround-sound installation piece.Read moreKRISTON JAE BETHEL / For The Inquirer

If you are looking for a reason to get out to Collegeville, there are four terrific shows on exhibit at Ursinus College’s Berman Museum of Art.

The biggest and boldest is Music for 150 Carpenters, a site-specific multimedia work celebrating the college’s 150th anniversary and the museum’s 30th birthday.

Conceived by the Berlin-based American sound artist Douglas Henderson and commissioned by Berman director Charles Stainback, it was initially a 30-minute live performance where Henderson conducted an orchestra of 150 players — actual carpenters, local artists, and Ursinus faculty, staff, and students — in a symphony of sounds produced by hammering nails into sawhorses, opening and shutting lunch boxes, and jiggling tools in carpenter’s aprons.

Since then, that performance has lived on in an uncanny facsimile. A video of the performance shot from overhead is continuously projected onto the gallery’s floor, while the recorded audio is played in multichannel surround sound. The well-used sawhorses, hammers, nails, aprons, and lunch boxes still occupy their original spots.

I wouldn’t want to be the museum assistant stationed at the Berman’s entrance — hearing hammering all day long would drive me up the wall, symphonically arranged or not — but Henderson’s remarkable composition kept me spellbound for the full 30 minutes.

Also at the Berman is “David Scher: The Tool-bag Years,” a small exhibition of the Brooklyn-based artist’s whimsical ink-and-watercolor drawings of carpenters at work. It’s a perfect complement to Music for 150 Carpenters, and so is “Harry Bertoia: Sculptor of Sound,” featuring the Pennsylvania artist’s early prints and drawings, his “sonambient” metal sculptures, and his recordings of acoustic tones produced by those sculptures.

Here, too, is “Stephanie Rowden: The Collection Speaks,” displaying artworks from the museum’s collection selected by Rowden, a Michigan artist known for sculptures and installations using sound. It’s a diverse group of works linked by the use of patterns. One standout is Francoise Gilot’s ink-on-paper Self-Portrait with Hair in Bun, with its supremely confident, simple lines.

All on exhibit through mid-March and beyond (closing dates vary) at Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art, Ursinus College, 601 E. Main St., Collegeville, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Sun. 610-409-3500 or

Staples of the art scene

Jim Lee’s latest paintings, at Larry Becker Contemporary Art, continue his habit of straddling painting, collage, and sculpture in works that look as if they were put together with only materials available to him at that instant. But his works are beautifully made, every square inch carefully considered. He calls this show "makeitmagnificent.”

Lee sometimes staples and stitches his canvases, possibly as a reference to the materials and construction that go into a painting — the lines of staples across the front are what we’d commonly see on back. He makes staples seem newly relevant. You sense that Lee is not just an artist, but a preservationist.

The gallery has mounted Lee’s small, colorful works in the front room, and his larger, mostly white, more austere ones in the back room. There’s a noticeable difference between them — fun in the front, and a hushed formality in the back.

Through Nov. 30 at Larry Becker Contemporary Art, 43 N. 2nd St., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Fri. and Sat. 215-925-5389 or

Camels and pugs and porcupines

The exhibit “Menagerie,” at Cerulean Arts, capitalizes on Philadelphians’ endless affection for their pets and other animals, but many of the works here transcend the expected cuteness.

Some I particularly like are Matthew Courtney’s ceramic send-ups of camels (and a penguin), Dori Spector’s Pug on a Rug, Millicent Krouse’s woodblock print Porcupine, and Philippa Beardsley’s mixed-media Cat in the Grass. Dan Miller’s woodblock prints are also very good.

Through Nov. 24 at Cerulean Arts, 1355 Ridge Ave., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Weds.-Fri., noon-6 p.m. Sat, and Sun. 267-514-8647 or