Why lay out cash for bronze, marble, steel, or pecky cypress when you can use the lawn mower?
At Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art, sculptor Timothy Belknap has done just that in "Mowing Towards Entropy," taking the quintessential American machine, painting it pristine white, and suspending a Calder-ish mobile of colorful plastic parts from the ceiling above. It's a vision of a lawn mower in rebellion, spewing its insides out instead of chomping up grass - and of the American dream of the perfect manicured lawn blown to smithereens.
In his "Kake" sculptures, Belknap conflates three American icons into household hazards at once. Cakes, the Fourth of July, and Wayne Thiebaud's iconic paintings of cakes resonate in these clever constructions of fireworks presented on glass cake pedestals (Big Boom-Kake, by far the largest of this series, sits on the gallery's floor and would be more impressive on a low, white sculpture pedestal).
I'm guessing that Belknap's macabre, but also strangely comical pneumatic sculpture, Unlovable, an upright vacuum cleaner form assembled from plastic human skeletal bones that pushes air out rather than sucking it in (creating a creaking death-rattle sound every few minutes, like clockwork) - refers to the American obsession with cleanliness, but also to the lives of workers who make the parts for these machines.
Hard Alee, a sculpture of thick sisal ropes hanging in a window, would be the anomaly in this show - its powerful, solid presence and surface roughness stand in stark contrast to Belknap's humorous, plastic-toy-colored, multipiece constructions - but it provokes the same simultaneous feelings of familiarity and anxiety.
The three photographers in the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center's "The Greater Area" capture the look of forlornness and emptiness common to the outskirts of American cities, but their images reflect three distinct interpretations of the places between suburb and city.
Will Steacy's color photographs of a bullet hole in a window in Atlantic City, a swastika carved into a tree trunk in Los Angeles, a circle of cigarette butts on a Philadelphia street, and a bench in Queens with its seat removed offer forensic evidence that people live or congregate in these in-between places, but they are never shown.
"The Greater Area" has a modernist sweep and clarity in Caitlin Teal Price's color photographs of highway overpasses, industrial buildings, and solitary businesswomen caught in the shadows of that anonymous architecture.
A vague sense of neighborhood wafts from Gregory Halpern's color photographs of people and places in the American Rust Belt, but it's clear the good times are long gone in these former steel towns. As with Price's female subjects, the expressions on the faces of Halpern's men and children reveal little of their lives - their desolate surroundings say it all.
Of the numerous exhibitions and window installations on Lancaster Avenue that make up the "Look! Lancaster Avenue" art project, running through November, two not to be missed are John Phillips and Carolyn Healy's site-specific, multimedia installation, "Figures of Speech
" on the second floor of a rowhouse at 3820 Lancaster Ave., and a group show of five artists, "Queries," at 3808 Lancaster Ave.
In the former, Healy and Phillips explore the patterns that form communication in a sculptural environment (by Healy) of hanging and wall-mounted found objects (marquee letters, metal shapes, ham radio call cards from the 1940s) animated by sound and video (by Phillips, including a modified recording of a reading of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake). Together, they have transformed this spooky, un-renovated floor into an eerie laboratory for wordplay.
Some of the highlights of "Queries," organized by the photographer Blaise Tobia, include Virginia Maksymowicz's cast hydrostone sculptures of forms derived from the human body, which are reminiscent of casts by Marcel Duchamp; photographs by John Woodin of houses in New Orleans ravaged by Hurricane Katrina; and Tobia's own photographs of curiosities shot around the world. Tobia need not have Photoshopped some of his images - Toast, an unaltered image of a framed breakfast menu shot at a restaurant in Liverpool, is proof.