At every turn, Bruce Metcalf's "Venus Adorned" at Snyderman holds agreeable surprises. For one thing, this jeweler and longtime University of the Arts teacher, known for challenging conventional thinking in the craft field while looking into craft's role in broader cultural contexts, has devised a surprising installation for the show: He has painted on the gallery walls 21 life-size, sharply characterized gray silhouettes of people he knows. Shown as if conversing, each silhouetted figure wears one of Metcalf's actual creations, either a neckpiece or brooch (two of them wear two brooches). Such a presentation of objects, clearly contemporary and resourceful, elicits comparison with museum exhibitions.
Another pleasant surprise is that Metcalf's strong views on craft seem to be winning wider acclaim and acceptance. This advance was spurred by the 2009 publication of his book Makers: A History of American Studio Craft, a six-year project cowritten with Janet Koplos, a former senior editor of Art in America magazine. It also led to his recent solo exhibit at the National Craft Gallery of Ireland in Kilkenny.
Metcalf has become America's 21st-century guru of studio craft, his main message readable in this focused opportunity to examine a range of individual pieces both tough and whimsical, with their marvelous, obsessive craftsmanship and personalized wedding of humble hand-carved and painted wood with high design. And not a diamond in sight.
Metcalf declares that craft and art are not the same thing; despite some overlap, each has its own context and its own history, and we should go along with them. For Metcalf, a considerable scholar and historian, adornment has ancient roots in sexuality going all the way back to flowers and leaves. And since his approach constantly renews visual experience, his works are never repetitious.
Also on view are sculpture and neckpieces by Jillian Moore of Iowa City, a rising talent noticed by Metcalf, and industrial-zipper jewelry by Kate Cusack of Brooklyn.
There's great, simple dignity in the exhibition "Witness: Artists Reflect on 30 Years of the AIDS Pandemic" at Asian Arts Institute, presented in collaboration with Casa di Duende. And, of course, there's also something disquieting and tragic that hangs over the artwork, with its dense range of resonant dark and sometimes glaring red colors, always more passionate than pastels. Yet, as disturbingly blunt as some of the images are in this show, curated by David Acosta, the artistry often tends to be refreshing, too, at least in one way - the humble sincerity of approach by so many of the 23 participating area artists.
H.D. Ivey shows a powerfully direct nude sculpture, The Victim, that strikes a stance as unyielding as it is unnerving; it could symbolize the show as a whole. Tay Cha's collages seem an exuberant extension of his concern for gesture in space, while Jonas dos Santos offers a sobering evocation of a way of life since the advent of AIDS, and both Gabriel Martinez and Chanthaphone Rajavong show rounded forms suggesting red blood cells. But the two arrived at those forms in totally different ways, Martinez through smashing recordings of a favorite pop singer who died of AIDS, Rajavong with a very clever use of a Dumpster Diver "find" of metal grating throwaways.
Photography from the disease's early years is a key ingredient of the show and has its own space, an important display that quickly adds weight and prestige to the regional art scene, while encouraging the public as well as artists to stay the course and take heart while working to end the scourge of AIDS.
Several unusually large oil paintings by artists Edward Redfield and Walter Baum, along with notable works by Daniel Garber and sizable clusters of pictures by George Sotter, Fern Coppedge, and others give "The Thrilla at Lambertvilla XXII" exhibition at Jim's of Lambertville a solid core.
The display features 125 works, including not just Pennsylvania impressionists such as those noted above, but also a representative segment of the area's scarcer early modernists.
At the yearly autumn-winter presentation at Jim's - so refreshingly different from the usual idea of a group show - one can stay afloat by holding firm to a sense of quality.
Jim Alterman a year ago opened a branch of his Lambertville flagship gallery in Palm Beach, Fla.; this month he opened a second one in the same town. Both are called Ashley John Gallery, after his 6-year-old twins.