Looking for a cool jaunt on a hot summer day? Wilmington's ground zero for contemporary art, the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, is having a particularly good moment. Center curators J. Susan Isaacs and Maiza Hixson and guest curator Julien Robson have come up with several surprisingly diverting exhibitions of contemporary art that run through the summer.
The main attraction is the Annual Members' Juried Exhibition, the kind of show that is typically too inclusive, a hodgepodge of unrelated things, or both, but, as organized by Robson, has clearly been selected with a discriminating eye. For "Fragile Boundaries," the global-minded Scottish-born curator has assembled a tidy group of 13 artists whose works in various mediums reflect his attraction to art that pushes beyond the expectations of its particular medium - and that refuses to be easily categorized.
Two of the more obvious examples of resistance in Robson's exhibition are Virginia Maksymowicz's fulsome Panis Angelicus, a cast plaster sculpture of what appears to be an upper section of a Corinthian column overflowing with cast-plaster loaves of bread and broken plaster ornamentation, and Leslie Friedman's Tasty, an installation of wall-mounted screen prints and a large pile of shiny oversize soda cans. Maksymowicz's exploration of the relationship between the description of the grave of the mythical goddess Persephone and the real caryatid figures at the Erechtheion in Athens is as still as any sculpture, but its eccentric bounty of ornamentation immediately suggests motion. Friedman's similarly brimming ode to consumerism and obesity - those soda cans are actually cardboard that Friedman has metallicized and screen-printed with her copies of famous logos - brings a contemporary ruin to mind.
Images behave like objects. Johanna Inman's series of color photographs of old books spread open to reveal empty stained pages, shot straight-on, look as much like found objects preserved behind their glass frames as they do photographs. Nancy Breslin's pinhole photographs of bathroom amenities in hotel rooms offer close-ups of soaps and shampoos that could pass for everyday snapshots but are literal embodiments of the time it took them to develop, while Brad Carlile's photographs of hotel rooms that I assumed were digitally manipulated in order to combine so many colors are actually composites of multiple exposures of rooms shot at different times of day from the same perspectives.
Two of the show's painters move fluidly between abstraction and representation. Michael Kalmbach's atmospheric, drippy paintings with aphorisms and statements written in them conflate the meaning of his words and his paint application. Emilie Keim's gestural paintings seem based on scenes quickly seen, at close range and from a distance, but give the impression of having been made slowly.
Nothing can be taken for granted here.
"Fragile Boundaries" also includes works by Mark Isaac, Laura Ledbetter, Maggie Mills, Joe Netta, James Rose, and Ted Walsh. Through Sept. 16.
Two solo shows organized by Hixson shine a light on three exceptional artists: Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib, the team behind the video installation "Right Here, Out There (Nowhere)," and the sculptor Emily Hermant ("New Work: Spatial Drawings").
Using an animation technique called rotoscoping that allows animators to trace over existing footage for redeployment in other films, Hironaka and Suib have created a changing panoramic view of a prehistoric or extraterrestrial landscape that brings to mind science fiction movies from the 1950s and 1960s and features a lovely, appropriately spacey soundtrack by the band Espers. Projected on a huge wall in a darkened gallery, "Right Here, Out There (Nowhere)" is transporting in every sense (through Sept. 30).
Isolated in adjoining rooms, Emily Hermant's large minimal sculptures constructed from bent wooden boards made me think of such modernist architects as Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen and look like loopy, swooping drawings in air. The shadows they cast complete them (through Aug. 26).
Isaacs has organized the most entertaining of the center's six shows, "And the WORD is. . .," a group exhibition focusing on religious language in contemporary art. Stephanie Kirk's color photographs of religious signage posted in the front yards of churches were my favorites, but I was also drawn to Martin Brief's "Amazon God Series," each drawing a list of handwritten book titles containing the word "God" that Brief found on Amazon, and Nicolas Kripal's floor sculpture, Epiphany, spelling that word in large letters on the floor. There is nothing remotely tongue-in-cheek, though, about the sculpture by the blind artist David Stephens, who arranges carved-wood bas-relief phrases from the Bible in Braille on the surfaces of his works. Through Oct. 14.
Isaacs also has curated "Entropy," eerie photographs of life-size human bodies by Carson Zullinger, through Sept. 9, and "A Functioning System," woven wool works inspired by microorganisms by Mary Giehl, through Sept. 16.