Since last April, when it opened, the Falling Cow Gallery has had some good shows and some less than mesmerizing ones, all densely packed with work.
Its current exhibition, "The World Is Flat," bodes well for its future. The gallery not only has come up with a topical, sophisticated theme - all the things a painting can be besides paint on a stretched canvas hanging on a wall - it also has chosen a copacetic group of four artists to illustrate its point. And it has installed their works to perfection.
The first smart move was to give Mauro Zamora, who's been appearing in a variety of Philadelphia galleries recently, an entire wall. Zamora's Surrender, combining a watercolor mural of a drive-in movie theater in a depressing, war-torn landscape with a digital animation of the words Be Aware Beware continuously projected across the theater's otherwise blank screen, is a sublime marriage of painting and video. The second smart move was to get Ben Will to construct his amusingly aggressive Burst, a wall-to-floor lava flow of colored duct tape and cardboard, directly across from Surrender. Duct tape really is good for everything.
Two other works that stayed with me long after I left were Bruce Campbell's wall-mounted circle of orange-yellow yarn, The Golden Moment of Realization, a lovably modest, optimistic piece that trails out onto the floor and brings to mind a warmer, fuzzier Bruce Nauman, and Chris Lawley's wittily titled The Gloaming, an amazingly awkward, intentionally sagging dark blue enamel-on-PVC painting supported tepee-style on wooden sticks.
It's nice to see Falling Cow spreading its wings.
To be an off-the-beaten-path gallery in Philadelphia seems more usual than not these days. Cerulean Arts Gallery, in the block of Ridge Avenue just south of the old Divine Lorraine Hotel, is typical of these newer spaces, and even closer to the heart of the city than many of them.
The works of Sarah Roche, which make up the gallery's third show since its September 2006 inaugural exhibition, were more than I expected. That is, I assumed Roche was a painter, which she is, but didn't realize she is also a ceramicist until another gallery-goer pointed out that the hulking janitor's cart in the center of the gallery, carrying spray bottles, dusters, and mops, was not evidence of a recent cleaning job but a porcelain work by Roche.
Along with the cart, Roche, who works as part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's maintenance crew, has made haunting paintings that express her insider's view of some of that museum's artworks, objects and period rooms, many of which contain her own face, figure or reflection.
Roche is not after facsimiles. Her cart is just a likeness of one, and her paintings are soft and moody, not even particularly finished-looking, like a song whose lyrics you've forgotten. What she has captured, you soon realize, is her mind's eye.