Astrid Bowlby is diversifying.
In her latest exhibition at Gallery Joe - the last was nearly four years ago - the artist, known for her meticulously drawn black-ink patterns suggestive of fields of chrysanthemums, is exploring various avenues and has the entire gallery in which to present them.
Textural paintings on paper of emblematic shapes based on positions assumed by her cat as seen from above (in two, the cat's silhouette looks just like a roast chicken minus one leg) are side by side with "paintings" created from accumulations of white cat fur with nipple-like gobs of hardened pink chewing gum embedded in them; paintings textured with poppy seeds and pasta; and delicate colored pencil and pencil stencil drawings.
Nor has she abandoned the black chrysanthemums. They're here, too, with perhaps a darker edge than before. But it's hard to tear your eyes away from the color in this show - in particular, Bowlby's pulsing two-color cat forms, rendered in hues of the same value.
Moreover, this show, titled "Sample (d)(r)," is itself a kind of performance piece that requires any potential collector to choose between two nearly identical works that Bowlby made contemporaneously. All the works in the show were created in pairs (Bowlby refers to the pairs as "samples of each other"); only one work from each pair is being sold, and the buyer makes the choice. This is a strategy more artists should employ if they think they'll regret parting with a work. (Bowlby, who claims not to favor any work over another, wants to keep one of each pair to help her reconstruct her thought processes as she made the pieces.)
More than once, Bowlby made me think of surrealist and Fluxus artists and of the young Yoko Ono. Like Ono's experiments of the '60s, some of which also (famously) invited viewer participation, Bowlby's new efforts give the impression of adhering strictly to her own life and values while not forgetting the importance of a breath of humor.
Blast of color
Color has always been integral to the work of the Scottish artist Dana Hargrove as a unifying force in her compositions of industrial cityscapes. But in her fifth show with Bridgette Mayer Gallery (her first in the new Mayer space), her color - especially her combinations of vivid, tropical colors in a series of freestanding painted-wood sculptures called Multiple Storey - is so powerfully high-key, it detracts from the architectural forms it's supposed to be throwing into relief. This unmodulated color on wood also calls to mind children's building blocks, which I doubt was Hargrove's intention.
There are several single painted sculptures of similarly shaped structures in her show that display a quirkier use of color (and they also have plenty of white space around them, which they need).
Hargrove's "Production of Belonging," a series of small paintings in which she has created her own juxtapositions of abandoned industrial buildings in her native Dundee, Scotland, and in Dallas, where she recently had a residency at the University of Texas, show off her imagination and strengths as a colorist to a T.
110 CHURCH gallery, on Church Street in Old City, may qualify as Philadelphia's smallest gallery, but it never fails to make the most of its petite white space. Case in point: "Ritual Reading Room, 100 Artists/200 Books," a monumental gathering of artists' books so ingeniously installed that, instead of throwing your hands up at the sheer volume of work, you can't help but be drawn to all of these minuscule books arranged on the walls and narrow tables in tidy grids.
Notices and open calls posted by the gallery asked for books on the theme of ritual, to be constructed from a single-sheet surface no larger than 11 by 7 inches. More than 100 artists and designers responded. Some artists broke the rules, but rules are made to be broken.
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