A glance at the comments in the guest book for Willie Cole: On Site, a traveling exhibition currently holding court at Penn's Arthur Ross Gallery, suggests this show of recent sculptures and prints by the artist Willie Cole is making gallery visitors extremely happy. One person rhapsodized for an entire page.
Cole has that effect on people.
I was similarly uplifted by a show of his prints at the Museum of Modern Art in 1998. His grid patterns of scorch marks made by pressing hot steam irons of various brands (General Electric, Sunbeam, Proctor Silex) onto large sheets of paper were simultaneously handsome -- who knew the everyday household appliance could leave such beautiful impressions? -- and terrifying. You could almost hear the sizzle in those sepia-colored stamps.
And they had startlingly far-reaching associations: to Cole's own African American roots, Marcel Duchamp's ready-mades, and minimalism, among others.
Cole is still transforming the everyday -- into sculptures and wall reliefs as well as prints.
Cast-off shoes are a favorite material for sculptures. Using six pairs and one single shoe, he has assembled a perfect cartoony likeness of a dog in MBF (Man's Best Friend). Hundreds of high heels converge to form his unlikely and uncomfortable-looking Loveseat. A cast-bronze aggregation of shoes, The Worrier, looks remarkably like a carved-wood African tribal figure.
Three of Cole's recent wall reliefs are composed of crushed plastic bottles attached to particleboard with resin. Two are painted -- one monochrome red and one solid white -- and hile the other has its original clear bottles. The latter, Clear Pool, is the most successful of these because its bottles are instantly recognizable as such and because it allows Cole's humble materials to sparkle under the gallery lights.
Another large relief, Louise in Heels, is fashioned from dozens of men's and women's black shoe heels, an obvious nod to Louise Nevelson's black wall sculptures.
Wondering what the exhibition's title means? Look up at Cole's Ascension (When It Rains It Pours), a chandelier constructed on site from some 5,000 recycled water bottles. It's the latest of several chandeliers Cole has made since 2012 incorporating discarded plastic bottles, all in an effort to protect the environment. That it happens to be frankly spectacular to boot doesn't hurt.
Through July 2 at Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania, 220 S. 34th St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Information: 215-898-2083 or www.arthurrossgallery.org.
Chaos and cryptic meanings
Though it likely did not set out to reflect the current state of affairs in Washington and Palm Beach, Fleisher/Ollman Gallery's "Cryptopictos" does convey a sense of obfuscation through the works of Reed Anderson, Isaac Tin Wei Lin, Patrick Maguire, and Sarah Walker.
Anderson's perforated paintings on paper, which also contain screen- and woodblock printing and collage elements, depict closely aligned chains of images, like the brain of someone plagued by repetitive thoughts.
More open than Anderson's compositions, but no more explicit, Lin's brilliantly colored calligraphic paintings are born of the urban street and its signage, but they also stop you in your tracks. It's hard to say whether they project "Keep Out!" or "Let's Play!"
The dark, mysterious places that Maguire conjures in his paintings, built from tiny strokes of paint, suggest dream archetypes distilled through Hitchcock's lens.
Walker's paintings, with their deftly handled pools of paint and geologic layering, capture the world's chaos on a panel.
Through May 26 at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, 1216 Arch St., 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. Information: 215-545-7562 or www.fleisher-ollmangallery.com.
Local painters, local landscapes
Two Philadelphia painters of local landscapes are exceptionally well paired in a soon-to-close two-person show at Gross McCleaf Gallery.
Giovanni Casadei's painterly scenes of people as seen from a distance on New Jersey beaches and elsewhere and of simple arrangements of fading flowers in vases hark back to life before social media and devices.
Patrick Connors turns the most ordinary, generally unnoticed (but often in full view) landscapes in Philadelphia into elegiac Turneresque meditations on his surroundings.
Through April 28 at Gross McCleaf Gallery, 127 S. 16th St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Information: 215-665-8138 or www.grossmccleaf.com.