Over the last two years, curators J. Susan Isaacs and Maiza Hixson have transformed the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts in Wilmington into one of the most discerning venues for contemporary art in our area, identifying or addressing trends with ambitious, provocative group shows and carefully chosen solo ones.
Hixson's "Young Country," the DCCA's first "satellite" exhibition, is now taking its final bow at the DCCA after opening at the Quonset Hut in Louisville, Ky., then going to University of the Arts' Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery and the Salisbury University Art Gallery in Salisbury, Md.
Rural American culture and history continue to fascinate young artists, and "Young Country" takes the current pulse of a generation captivated by hobos, farm-to-table dining, obscure regional music, the Civil War, cowboys, living in the country (even when it's really Brooklyn or Kensington), and all things vintage. Hixson has done her homework - her 23 artists hail from across the United States and do not include any of the usual suspects.
Some of the standouts include Mel Chin's Rough Rider, a life-size Western saddle fashioned from barbed wire and steel; Joe Girandola's Horse Sense (Father and Son), a duct-tape-on-canvas "painting" of horses watching a horse race on TV; Jeffrey Stockbridge's Country, a color photograph of a tattooed young man about to inject himself with a syringe, and Andrea Stanislav's The Vanishing Points, a life-size sculpture of a horse made from mirrored glass and mounted on a turning dais.
Isaacs' "Freak Antique" gathers a group with distinctly different interests - her eight artists reference those cabinets of curiosities, or Kunstkammer, that collectors of earlier centuries assembled, mixing artworks with objects from nature. But her artists' taste for the gothic past does make an intriguing parallel with Hixson's show. If you haven't already been struck by the looming presence of history in a lot of contemporary art, seeing these two group exhibitions side by side will make the phenomenon readily apparent.
Arranged salon-style, Darla Jackson's gypsum cement facsimile of a skunk asleep on the seat of a found, desperately worn 18th-century-style chair; Jedediah Morfit's intricately modeled bas-reliefs of figures that recall Wedgwood's Jasperware; and Dana Matthews' The Reign of Medusa, an installation of Mütter Museum-like glass jars filled with jellyfish, antique thermometers, rusted anchors, and other relics of human interaction with the ocean, paired with her staged photographs, demonstrate just how strongly the past influences our imaginations, even if we're not immediately aware of it.
The solo shows make obvious connections to their respective group exhibitions: among them Joe Girandola's duct-tape paintings and Nicholas Kripal's ceramic sculptures that recall architectural ornamentation of the past, and the Quay Brothers' animated film, Through the Weeping Glass, inspired by the Mütter Museum's collection of 19th-century medical anomalies.
In Philadelphia galleries, the most delectable group show of the fall season is Gallery Joe's "small scale: expansive visions," featuring drawings and watercolors that are physically diminutive but depict views of landscapes typically associated with much larger works.
These include Marcel Gahler's exquisite drawings of children; Tom Molloy's photo-based drawings of clouds following the H-bomb detonation on Elugelab Island, in the Pacific Ocean, in 1952, as seen from ships; Charles Ritchie's watercolor and graphite renderings of interiors and exteriors of his Maryland house at night, reminiscent of scenes from the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird; Dozier Bell's sublime charcoal landscapes that manage to suggest both the English moors and the Mississippi Delta; Rob Matthews' drawing of a solitary tree in a landscape that Philadelphians will immediately recognize as Fairmount Park; and Tom Fairs' intensely active drawings of sharply contained views of scenes in and around London's Hampstead Heath.