Since moving to its spacious, prominently situated building on Third Street in 2011 - and dropping its quaint former name, the Wood Turning Center - the Center for Art in Wood has been busily raising its profile. Tops on its agenda is letting the art-minded public know it considers all kinds of work exploring the possibilities of wood in various fashions, not just what fits within conventional notions of woodworking.
Its latest effort in that direction - headed by Gerard Brown and David Stephens, both of whom serve on the center's exhibition committee - has been to invite a group of young Philadelphia artists who work in diverse media (most are members of two local artist collectives, Napoleon and Tiger Strikes Asteroid; one is a Vox Populi member) to make artworks inspired by pieces in the center's collection and then exhibit them in the gallery. Several are sculptors who frequently employ wood, but the majority do not.
"Other Selections: Local Artists Respond to the Museum Collection," pairs each of the show's 18 artists' works with the selected work (or works) from the collection, or a photograph of it. The relationships forged between artworks and wood works are rarely predictable or immediately accessible, which makes this show more interesting, and more gratifying, than other gatherings of this kind.
Some artists saw a connection between the patterns in a wood piece and their own art. Alexis Nutini, a printmaker, responded to Lincoln Seitzman's Petrified Shopping Basket (which looks exactly like a wicker basket) and Michael DeForest's carved-wood abstract panel Concave/Convex with Crosstalk, a monumental wall-hung weaving of modular plywood "pixels" based on his own proofs, misprints, and ghost prints. Another Seitzman basket encouraged Christina P. Day to hand-cut and realign the color separations of vintage plaid kitchen wallpaper into a superimposed iteration of the original.
Timothy Belknap, known for kinetic sculptures, noticed a number of robotically styled, futuristic wood works in the center's collection, in particular an art deco-inspired box by Michael Mocho and a vase-shape sculpture featuring delicate bonelike protrusions from its mouth by Dennis Stewart. His dark rejoinder? Last Gasp at Being, a large sculpture involving a long piece of wood that looks as though it could have been a support for a pier. The wood is mounted vertically on a turning circular base painted white with a black spiral, so its movement suggests swirling water. Atop the wood, a large stone; atop the stone, a taxidermied black bird or a very good imitation of one.
Others discovered inspiration in the formal qualities of wood pieces. Mark Brosseau looked for objects in the collection that suggested an experiential situation, then translated that feeling to his abstract paintings. The strong, familiar vase forms at the center of Terri Saulin Frock's delicate porcelain dystopian visions of city architecture have much in common with the self-possessed wooden objects she chose. Jake Brubaker's Saffron Container looks like a starting point for a Saulin Frock. Lewis Colburn's interest in history directed him to a bundle of balusters from the John Grass Wood Turning Co. and to Neil Donovan's Walking Stool, which incorporates a shoe last.
These forms and their histories are repeated in Colburn's untitled mechanical "sculpture," inspired by a machine developed by Thomas Blanchard in 1822 to copy forms in wood from a master pattern and later adapted to carve wooden shoe lasts. But Colburn's take is as clever as it is haunting, an assembly line of wooden legs fashioned from balustrades with shoe lasts as feet.
"Other Selections" also includes works by Jaime Alvarez, Todd Baldwin, Marc Blumthal, Patrick Coughlin, Marianne Dages, Leslie Friedman, Jason Gandy, James Johnson, Ryan McCartney, Joanna Platt, H. John Thompson, and Tamsen Wojtanowski.
Three terrific solo shows at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery are in their final stretch.
Paul Swenbeck commands the main gallery with his latest ceramic sculptures, digital prints, monotypes, and a video made with Aaron Igler, all continuing his exploration of an underwater environment and European folk-culture myths involving mer-people. The title of his show, "Holothurians Purring," refers to a musical composition by Erik Satie, but the actual holothurian, an undersea animal better known as the sea cucumber, which can regurgitate its entire digestive system (and quickly grow a new one), could be said to be emblematic of this show.
Everywhere strange sci-fi-like creatures lurk in a state of flux. I particularly like his digital photographs of watery places with mysterious rainbow-hued reflections from his series "Portals," intended to suggest portals connecting the sea and the landscape through the lens of a microscope.
Rochelle Toner's small watercolors of colorful, dense, repeated maze-like patterns, or of open space intersected by repeated lines, suggest exuberance trying to break through confinement or nature interacting with the human world. They also reflect her admiration for such self-taught artists as Joseph Yoakum and Martin Ramirez. They're ostensibly playful and occasionally outspokenly erotic, but a somber note runs underneath.
"Polaroid Project" unites Peter Atkins' faithful recreations of Polaroid packaging and Alan Constable's expressionistic ceramic sculptures of the cameras they once contained. Think of a pairing of Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg circa early 1960s. Not to be missed!