Today anything can be included in the realm of art, even Legos.
That ordinary toy has been elevated to a building block for art in "Nathan Sawaya: The Art of the Brick" at the Lancaster Museum of Art - billed as the first art museum exhibit of its kind anywhere.
Attendance-breaking crowds are flocking to it, the youngest visitors repeatedly sounding such sage pronouncements as "Cool" and "Wow."
Sawaya is a professional Lego artist and former Lego master model builder. Lego-savvy since age 5, he's a self-taught artist with obviously a very natural feel for working three-dimensionally.
These 32 works are basically geometric, even rectilinear, but Sawaya views this factor ironically, sabotaging it as often as possible as he builds up the shapes. He favors emphatic diagonals, imprecise borders, bright colors, and realistic human portrayals.
Often he's the direct subject of his work in life-size figures or a torso breaking out from a box in Gray, perhaps his finest piece, made from 150,000 Lego bricks in six weeks. Another striking self-referential work, Yellow, shows a breakthrough as well. The large Hand and Tall Pencil are also noteworthy.
But above all, the denser, more complex Gray and Yellow signify a personal type of marking that declares, "This is mine." In those two pieces, Sawaya has broken out of any "confinement" he might feel as an artist working in this medium, with a great blast of painstaking craftsmanship and eccentric energy. A must-see show.
Lancaster Museum of Art, 135 N Lime, Lancaster. To May 20. Mon-Sat 10-4, Sun noon-4. Free. 717-394-3497.
DCCA. Carrie Ann Baade is a painter for whom parodies of style count a great deal. In her show "Virtues and Vices" at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, she has taken on a pantheon of medieval and baroque art to spoof.
This she does by portraying historical personages in medieval or baroque costume and people today in modern fables that she has created.
Baade here pays close attention to rich and varied techniques in oil and egg tempera with gold leaf on panels she paints in crisp, gemlike detail.
Combining the decorative and the surreal, such paintings by this Philadelphia artist seem jammed with homages to a very peculiar range of past art. Heady stuff some of it is. Might this be virtuoso theater, too?
Still, there's a good, dark, pungent energy to these paintings. The best of these hybrid works, Ecstasy of Madam Dolorosa, manages to seem genuinely fresh and innovative even if it does achieve a sense of psychological disjunction and intensity.
Baade's tattered figures often wear masks that project either virtue triumphant or anxiety with its threateningly spiked fears and envisionings. And she hews to symbolic richness one minute and makes jokey ambiguities the next in this tantalizing show of promise.
Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, 200 S Madison, Wilmington. To May 20. Tue & Thu-Sat 10-5, Wed & Sun noon-5. Adults $5; Sat 10-1 free; Wed pay as you wish. 302-656-6466.
Pagus Gallery, Norristown. Judy Lupas of Pottstown and Rosemary Castiglioni of Philadelphia show 25 abstract paintings in "Phrases and Passages" at Pagus. Most make subtle references to the figure.
Castiglioni engages irregular organic shapes in dialogue. These forms of chalky, ruddy color often are deeply scored with black recesses. Her Open and Shut Case and A Natural Inclination are noteworthy.
Three of Lupas' exuberant, loosely brushed acrylic paintings - When We First Arrived, Spirits United and The Journey - soon caught my eye. That was because they are emotionally laden yet seem to express a craggy yet persevering strength on the part of the artist.
Pagus Gallery, 619 W Washington, Norristown. To May 11. Tue-Fri 10-4. Free. 610-574-1350.