If you travel through a city regularly, as Arden Bendler Browning does in Philadelphia, you'll recognize the shifting, overlapping views in her paintings as images glimpsed on the move, even at the various speeds at which they might have been encountered. If you use Google Maps, as Bendler Browning also does, you might notice a correlation between the effect of zooming in and out on digital maps and the sense of compression and expansion in each of her compositions.
In her first solo show at Bridgette Mayer Gallery, Bendler Browning has merged these two familiar ways of experiencing Philadelphia's urban spaces into paintings that are denser, lusher, and more kaleidoscopic than ever.
This is a more tropical Philadelphia than the one conjured by Bender Browning in her previous works. In Clickpath, roofless structures and fences seem on the verge of collapsing near a dump site overshadowed by palm trees, but the overall image and its individual components are merely strokes, shapes, and hot colors ignited by strong contrasts of light and dark.
Stage, among the most assured and ambitious of Bender Browning's new works, pulls one's eye far into a scene that looks like an excavation of ruins in a jungle in Indonesia or Thailand, though it could easily be Fairmount Park.
One of her least referential works, Two Directions, could nevertheless be taken for a view of an alley or a polluted inner-city canal. Agitated strokes of blue and gray float downward to planes of glowing fluorescent orange and pink. A structure resembling a Germantown or Ridge Avenue storefront leans forward in the painting's upper right. Bendler Browning often catches the essence of a place while giving very few clues to any actual site or sites.
I enjoyed Construction Project, the interactive digital animation projected on the gallery's back wall that the artist made with her husband, Matt Browning, which shows her marks and brushstrokes orchestrated into illusions of various formations and actions, such as clustering together and dissolving, but it distracts from contemplation of her paintings and should have had a room of its own.
The people's choices
Vox Populi has the first of three shows of works by nonmembers (mostly out-of-towners) who sent in applications to the artist collective's Guest Artist Series. As in the current iteration - of artists Taylor Baldwin, Caroline Wells Chandler, Derek Larson, and Chandler Wigton - successive exhibitions will present four artists selected by Vox members.
Wigton makes bright, graphic paintings of long colored lines radiating outwards from the center, around which snippets of black geometric shapes with white letters on them appear to float, like pieces of torn messages buffeted by the wind. I was reminded of 9/11 and the World Trade Center towers, but that is far too literal an interpretation of these abstract paintings.
Chandler's large crocheted figures and trees and massive "paintings" of craft aggregations are feats of imagination and industry, but the transgender artist's show is overly crowded and it's hard to appreciate the individual works in it. A few of her knitted pieces would have made a stronger impression.
With so much real horror in the world, it's hard to imagine wanting to invent gruesome images, but that is what Baldwin does. Yet his sculptures of corpses and skeletons as if alive are so extraordinarily well made and fashioned so seamlessly from so many materials, they're hard not to admire.
Of the four, Larson strikes me as the artist who would be most compatible with the Vox aesthetic - if there was such a thing. His installation, Leveling the Genres, is composed of individual works - digital prints, projected animations, sculptural videos - that connect all the cynosures of popular culture, art, literature, and technology to create, as he puts it, "an experience meant to last only for a second." He succeeds nicely.