When I last saw Bruce Campbell's work, in a group show in 2007, his two small sculptures, one constructed from yarn and the other from drinking straws, made me think of Bruce Nauman. Sculptor Tom Friedman's clever, toylike aggregations of everyday materials briefly came to mind, too, but Campbell's pieces weren't as obsessive or as fastidiously made as Friedman's, or as demanding of attention. They had a modest, abject quality that was appealing, if you like that sort of thing.
Now that I've seen Campbell's first one-person show in Philadelphia, at Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art, I think he's found his own spot in the universe. There are echoes of Nauman and Ed Ruscha - not the least in Campbell's quirky humor and his exploration of language in his new work - but he is definitely also a descendant of Duchamp, Johns, and other artists who have cared more about ideas than about any particular medium.
The yarn and drinking straws are nowhere to be found. Campbell is on to new materials and media, such as drawing and photography. There are only six works in this exhibition, all from this year, and they take up this small storefront gallery with remarkable self-possession and aplomb.
Words are everywhere, and in the most unexpected places. The seven photographs of
It Wasn't Supposed to Be This Way
depict seven separate shots of the back of Campbell's head shaved with one of those words, mounted contiguously. A gilded bronze lightbulb projecting from the wall is engraved with the phrase "There was a light around his head and horns in his mind." A tall, vertically positioned rectangle of steel, leaning against a wall, has the words YOU STANDING UPRIGHT MAKES ME STAND UPRIGHT cut into it - but reading sideways. A piece titled
is that word in uppercase letters shaped out of painted steel stock and mounted an inch or two out from the wall, to create a shadow.
Campbell has also made a graphite drawing on cut paper on which he has scrawled "Live like it is 1968 (for one month)" and a sculpture of black folded fabric on a black pedestal that features no words but has the title
Folded Night Sky
At some point, it strikes you that the title of Campbell's show, "Nothing in Stone," is one of the most perfect appellations an exhibition ever had.
There is no shortage of drawing with a surreal or fairy-tale kind of narrative. Anne Canfield, who is showing her new series, "Territorial," at Cerulean Arts, falls into that camp, but her stories are so genuinely strange, and her drawing so meticulous, that you're taken along for the ride whether this is your cup of tea or not.
For one thing, there's a mermaid who appears to have mesmerized a pride of Maine coon cats; for another, there's a girl living in an underground chamber; fortresses; gondolas; and a sea monster. The mermaid and the cats are the constants, though the former isn't always recognizable as such (one view of the back of her tail leaving through the window of a Victorian parlor looks like a pair of deer's antlers mounted on the wall).
I happened to see a large painting of Canfield's in a group show at the Icebox Space (see below) on the same theme and thought these tiny, delicate drawings more conducive to her fanciful tales.
The Icebox Space is home to "Perspectives," organized by Amie Potsic, director of the Career Development Program of the Center for Emerging Visual Artists, which features works by its current 23 fellows.
It's a sprawling show that is testament to the diversity the center encourages, and some works, especially the larger or simpler ones, hold their own in this cold, high-ceilinged space better than others.
They include the photographer James B. Abbott's tactile, toned gelatin silver prints of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge; Joelle Jensen's color portraits of rooms in conventional middle-class homes; Jed Morfit's raised-plastic (bas-relief) profiles of figures on wood panels, and Scott Pelinat's sprawling sculpture of an imagined industrial landscape.