After a long-running scholarly exhibition of Harry Bertoia drawings that was beginning to look like a permanent installation, Seraphin Gallery has sprung back into action with what you initially might assume to be one of those lighthearted summer crowd-pleasers. But "My Dog Speaks: Animal Narrative in Contemporary Art," a group show organized by painter Hiro Sakaguchi and featuring works by 13 artists in which animals take center stage, is generally more poignant, puzzling, and dark than cute.
Sarah McEneaney, who often has portrayed her own animal companions in her paintings, sets the show's slightly unsettling tone with her large tempera painting, Dog Heaven (2008) - ostensibly of a lush green city dog park overrun with playful canines of all sorts, but in fact a group portrait of formerly living dogs the artist knew - and also with Peggy (2005), a small gouache of a dog seeking shade under a palm tree.
Though Bonnie Brenda Scott's mural is about the first piece you'll see on entering the gallery - and you can't miss her sprawling pink-and-orange painting of what appear to be wolves and human figures made of intestines - her small mixed-media pieces, Trouble at the Hen House and Trouble at the Hen House II (both 2009), drawn and painted on actual hunters' target sheets for coyotes, seem to emblemize human anger at animal transgressors.
Darla Jackson's two sculptures, All the Times . . . (2007) and Cheap (Delusions of Grandeur Series) (2005), cast a frankly somber mood.
The former, a likeness of a sleeping or dead fawn whose skin is etched with crossed-out numerals, and the latter, a cast of a dead baby bird atop a rectangular bronze slab, warn of the consequences of environmental negligence. Nancy Sophy and Eric McDade also conjure the fragility of nature in their solemn, although very different, images of birds.
John Karpinski, Anne Canfield, Sherif Habashi, Caroline Picard, and collaborators Alina Josan and Amanda Miller create more obvious narratives in their drawings and paintings than any of the other artists in this show, and they also are more inclined to far-fetched whimsy. Their "stories" are like fairy tales gone askew or awry.
Laura McKinley's riff on early American portraiture, Shilly-Shally (2008), has no narrative whatsoever, but her black-and-white kittens are mesmerizing.
The association between the woodworker and furniture-maker George Nakashima (19051990), who lived and worked in Bucks County, and Knoll, the preeminent manufacturer of modern furniture, is the subject of the Design Center's "George Nakashima and Knoll: The Making of an Object."
Examples of Nakashima's original handmade furniture pieces are here, as are the prototypes he created for Knoll between 1946 and 1954 (Knoll recently reintroduced his Straight Back Chair from the late 1940s). The show also features displays of Japanese woodworking tools and their American counterparts, drawings by Nakashima, photographs, a short documentary film about Nakashima, and a video of interviews with Nakashima experts.
Hungry for more Nakashima furniture? Old City's Moderne Gallery, which specializes in Nakashima and has an exhibition of his early furniture opening Oct. 16, should be your next stop.
Modica at Drexel
Andrea Modica's black-and-white portraits of rural Coloradans and Upstate New Yorkers - involved in mundane activities that appear to be strange (and are a collaboration of sorts between the photographer and her subjects) - are an acquired taste. They're not stylishly weird in the manner of Diane Arbus or Sally Mann. They are simultaneously dreary and otherworldly and anything but unctuous.
Modica is widely admired by her photographer peers (and by Newsweek magazine), and you can divine their appreciation in this petite Drexel University exhibition of works from her series "Fountain" and "Treadwell."