Certain artists aren't just good at what they do, they know how to work a room.
Anne Seidman's paintings are acts of faith rendered in color on rag board. You wonder what prompted them, how her slightly off-kilter geometric shapes keep their precarious balance, and how they can be so different but pass for cousins.
They also look wonderful in Schmidt Dean Gallery's main space, echoing its deep rectangularity and low ceiling with their own strange, extenuated architecture. With Seidman's paintings hanging here, this room is a malleable, playful space, not the overly long, narrow, even draining one it has been for some of the gallery's artists. (It helps that Seidman's paintings are small, of slightly varying dimensions, vividly colored, and hung farther apart than usual for this gallery.) Seidman's paintings pop out from those too-close-together walls and make them appear to recede.
Since her show here three years ago, her compositions of shapes have become less reminiscent of views of city buildings and more suggestive of close-up exteriors and interiors. (Perhaps that's why they share an uncanny affinity with the room they're in). Though abstract, they can bring Sarah McEneaney's domestic scenes to mind - minus the figures, animals and furniture - while her thickest, glossiest puddles of paint and oddball forms veer in the direction of the Austrian master of awkwardness, Franz West.
This is the most persuasive, daring work Seidman has produced. Each of her paintings does its own unpredictable thing, but there's a sense of synchronicity among them - and it just happens to make the gallery shine, too.
A selection of photographer Ruth Thorne-Thomsen's black-and-white pinhole photographs of seemingly impossible scenes makes a nice counterpoint to Seidman's paintings in the small exhibition space. I wouldn't have thought of pairing artist and photographer, but the asymmetrical shapes Thorne-Thomsen gives her photographs of her photographic collages (they are, in fact, constructed scenes) are similar to some of Seidman's. Take a good, long look: Thorne-Thomsen made these the old-fashioned way, before Photoshopping became routine.
In the midst of life . . .
Damien Hirst at Wexler Gallery? It's true. The original YBA (Young British Artist) of pickled shark and sheep fame has two sculptures - a cast-silver skull and a cast-silver heart - in the gallery's "(In)Between: Contemporary Interpretations of Vanitas" exhibition, organized by its associate director, Sienna Freeman.
The Fate of Man (2005) is a beautiful, weirdly serene piece, cast from a young girl's skull. The Sacred Heart (2005), pierced with pins and razor blades (and all of it cast in silver) is almost as compelling, except that the heart, which must have come from a very large animal, does not immediately read as one.
Of the other six artists in this show, Adelaide Paul, who covers her porcelain casts of real dogs with colored leather that she stitches to mark each section of the animal's body, comes closest in spirit to Hirst. Green Dog (2008), one of four such pieces, is easily the most startling piece in this show, mainly because of its lifelike, bright green eyes. I don't get the point of Paul's work - apparently to call attention to our schizoid relationships with animals - but I couldn't take my eyes off it, either.
There are two painters whose work fits Freeman's theme perfectly, but who I would never have expected to see here. One is Randall Sellers, who has shown extensively in Philadelphia and elsewhere; the other is Anne Siems, German-born and based in Seattle. Sellers is represented by three tiny, oval-shaped paintings of landscapes set in the center of three 8-by-10-inch canvases, all of which bring to mind memento mori, cameos, and American folk paintings. Siems also paints images inside cameo shapes, such as a face of an 18th-century man or woman, or an eye, or lips, but sets them within a painting of a surreal scene from the past. Imagine a marriage between Jane Austen and Magritte.
The show is rounded out by the efforts of Joe Boruchow, Tim Tate and Dirk Staschke, all of whose work was new to me. Boruchow, a Philadelphia artist, contributed four meticulous paper cutouts of ominous interior scenes mounted on white satin; Tate, a Washington glass sculptor, has three reliquaries of hand-cast and blown glass mounted with tiny monitors showing original videos; and the Vancouver ceramic sculptor Staschke is represented by three ceramic figurative pieces that look like cut stone and could pass for religious ornamental sculpture from an obscure ancient Egyptian cult.