Brian Dettmer isn't the first artist to transform old books into new art - old-book interventions place a close second to vintage-fabric ones these days - but he may be the most architecturally minded.
The survey of his recent work, "Brian Dettmer: Elemental," at Haverford College's Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, includes, among other pieces, a freestanding sculpture called Tower I (Britannica), composed of open, interlocking encyclopedia volumes; excavations of single books; an editioned giclée and screen print on paper that depicts a complex chart Dettmer developed by tracing synonym trails starting with the word chaos and comprising more than 2,600 words; and a life-size door constructed from paperbacks of every Danielle Steele novel.
It's tempting to read the new sentences in books created by Dettmer's meticulous slicing to see whether he has added his own voice or meaning to a novel or nonfiction book - his subtractions of words do seem to emphasize important aspects of stories - but the sheer density of his fragmented sentences seems intended to defy prolonged study. Depth and superficiality exist simultaneously in his incised books.
One of the more seemingly straightforward of Dettmer's pieces, and an anomaly in this show, is a wall installation titled Altered States (Flags), of small, framed collages of flag-derived images arranged on the wall in the shape of the United States, one flag per state. It held my attention longer than his book works, not least because I was relieved to contemplate images after so many words. There may well have been puns on particular states to catch in Dettmer's colorful, reinvented flags - I thought I saw a few - but identifying them seemed inconsequential to an appreciation of this work.
The national call for reform of the juvenile justice system and the positive effects of creative arts education on young detainees have an impressively eloquent advocate in "Juvenile In Justice," an exhibition at the Crane Arts Building in Kensington. Curated by Julien Robsen and Rachel Zimmerman and organized by the Philadelphia nonprofit InLiquid in partnership with the Juvenile Law Center, the show brings together Mat Tomezsko, Roberto Lugo, and Richard Ross, all of whom have witnessed the damaging effects of incarceration on young people.
"There is No," a series of 94 paintings made by Tomeszko, a Philadelphia artist, in collaboration with young homeless people from the Covenant House shelter, lines the walls of the Crane's Big Hall space. Brushed and spray-painted on paper, and often containing parts of words, these grim works suggest wanted posters, closeup views of graffiti, prison cells, and obscured faces.
In the Crane's Grey Area, Lugo, a master of fine arts candidate at Penn State who grew up in Kensington knowing friends and family members who were incarcerated, is showing 25 recent ceramic sculptures and a self-portrait and a series of cups made in collaboration with his wife. Lugo's sculptures take the forms of traditional vessels but are intensely autobiographical, painted to reflect aspects of his life and the Puerto Rican-American culture he experienced in Philadelphia.
An internationally known photographer and creator of the Juvenile In Justice project, Ross has traveled to more than 250 detention centers in 30 states, taking photographs that document the placement and treatment of American juveniles. The 75 color images that make up his "Juvenile In Justice" series (also published as a book that won the American Library Association's 2013 Alex Award) are on view in the Crane's vast Icebox, many accompanied by statements made to him by his subjects. You will not find a more candid, vivid account of the lives of detained children than this series.
Only two weeks remain to see Fleisher/Ollman's museum-quality presentation of ceramics, paintings, and photographs by Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910-1983), one of America's more fascinating self-taught artists.
Von Bruenchenhein lived in Milwaukee with his wife and muse, Marie, who he photographed incessantly in pinup poses meant to suggest South Seas locales. But he also painted mushroom-cloud formations and alien creatures in apocalyptic landscapes, possibly inspired by the threat of nuclear war, and made ceramic vaselike forms that borrowed their textures and structures from his collection of cacti and exotic plants.
The gallery is also featuring a slide show of Von Bruenchenhein's photographs of Marie and himself at leisure in their cozy, kitschy bungalow.