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Art shows to see in Philly this fall

Somber, reflective and activist ideas are the focus of Philly's fall art shows.

"Untitled, circa 1980," by Gilbert Lewis at Kapp Kapp. One of several shows to see right now.
"Untitled, circa 1980," by Gilbert Lewis at Kapp Kapp. One of several shows to see right now.Read moreKapp Kapp

Given the turmoil of the past months and continuing uncertainty over COVID-19, it’s no surprise galleries have responded with more modest shows than in past fall seasons.

Also not unexpected: Art that projects a noticeably somber or reflective mood, as in Neysa Grassi’s enigmatic paintings evoking the passage of time; Anna Bogatin Ott’s paintings of vertical bands of color inspired by the light of the sun and moon and the vastness of the sky, and all of the works in “Re-materialize,” whose artists (El Anatsui, Shari Mendelson, Jackie Milad, and Alison Saar) have recycled discarded materials with a remarkable sensitivity to their past lives.

Activism is alive and well in Carrie Mae Weems' billboards on the UArts campus addressing COVID-19′s disproportionate impact on communities of color, Jennie Thwing’s unsettling animation and cut-felt installation expressing her view of the Trump era, and Temple Contemporary’s 11-artist untitled group show on the theme of America’s current state of upheaval.

» READ MORE: Things to do in Philly this weekend: Our weekly events calendar will keep you busy

Gilbert Lewis: The Mind of Man, Portraits 1982-2009. Lewis, who attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and graduated from Philadelphia College of Art (now UArts) in 1975, is the subject of concurrent exhibitions at Kapp Kapp and at PAFA, the Woodmere Art Museum, and the William Way LGBT Community Center. Kapp Kapp’s focus is on Lewis’ highly-detailed gouache portraits of queer young men who posed for him in his Philadelphia studio apartment. (Through Oct. 23, Kapp Kapp, by appointment only, 215-309-5315,

Touching From a Distance. Colorful, often humorous, works in various mediums by gallery artists. Standouts include Jennifer Levonian’s cut-paper animation, “Lost Islands of Philadelphia,” in a which a distraught mother chases her bookish young daughter (who’s on a bike) perilously on skates through South Philadelphia to the Delaware River, where she finds her daughter hoping for a glimpse of long-gone Smith’s and Windmill Islands; Tristin Lowe’s sculpture of the lower half of a jeans-clad figure protruding, work boots-first, from the gallery’s ceiling; Kambel Smith’s meticulously executed three-dimensional reproduction of the historic Philadelphia synagogue Rodeph Shalom; and Knicoma Frederick’s entertainingly devilish untitled painting. (Through Nov. 7; Fleisher/Ollman, 215-545-7562;

Carrie Mae Weems: Resist Covid Take 6! This is phase 1 of a public art project presented by the University of the Arts focusing on the devastating effect of COVID-19 on the Black, Latino, and Native American communities. Billboards in four locations on UArts' campus feature Weems' photographs and related graphic messages, which offer useful information and hope to passersby. (Ongoing; UArts' Hamilton Hall, 320 S. Broad St.; Terra Hall, 211 S. Broad St.; Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery/Window on Broad, 333 S. Broad St., Philadelphia Art Alliance at University of the Arts, 251 S. 18th St.,

Derrick Velasquez: Greatest Attempts. Velasquez is showing his first-ever series of paintings, which take their inspiration from clothing made for royalty and military commanders in the 17th and 18th centuries. He’s also presenting a video, Lux, and works on paper incorporating photographs of European Baroque and Victorian architecture. (Through Oct. 25, Pentimenti Gallery, 215-625-9990,

Re-materialize. Among the works worth seeing in this exhibit: wall-hanging sculptures fashioned from bottle caps and other aluminum items, by the Ghanaian-Nigerian artist El Anatsui. Vessels by Brooklyn sculptor Shari Mendelson, which resemble ancient glass artifacts but are made from discarded plastic bottles. From Baltimore artist Jackie Milad: collages on paper and hand-dyed canvas that incorporate parts of her own earlier artworks and found graphics. And woodcut and intaglio prints on vintage textile fragments that are meditations on the neglected history of Southern Black communities, by the California-based artist Alison Saar. (Through Dec. 20, Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania, by appointment only, 215-898-2083,

Anna Bogatin Ott: Wanderland. A new series of paintings based on the light of the moon and the sun at various points in time, each one containing sharp contrasts of hue and line scale. (Oct. 17-Nov. 28, Larry Becker Contemporary Art, by appointment only, 215-925-5389,

2020: Jennie Thwing. The video and installation artist is offering her personal perspective on the Trump era, Black Lives Matter, the pandemic, and the 24-hours news stream in an animation and a cut-felt installation. (Through Nov. 29, Grizzly Grizzly, by appointment only,

Temple Contemporary at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture. An untitled group exhibition addressing our current moment in America, with works by Indira Allegra, Noel W. Anderson, Phillip Stearns, Cecilia Vicuña, others. (Through Nov. 20, 215-777-9139,

Lisa Naples: Using the Sun to Find North. Painted plates narrating the peregrinations of a middle-aged red-tailed female hawk and ceramic figures of hares in motion. (Through Nov. 15, Clay Studio, 215-925-3453,

Neysa Grassi/Joanna Pousette-Dart: Floating World. Grassi’s recent paintings evoke the ineffable, with atmospheric images that seem to be illuminated within the surfaces of her canvases. Pousette-Dart’s graphic abstract works borrow their forms from common curved shapes, including the human eye. (Through Oct. 17, Locks Gallery, by appointment only, 215-629-1000,