Kate Bright, Locks Gallery, Philadelphia (Artforum)

The title of Kate Bright’s exhibition, “Soft Estate,” referred to the fertile swaths of land that run parallel to railroads and highways in the UK, where Bright photographed the flourishing nonnative flora that are, in her words, “escapees from the domesticated environment.” Painted from composites of these photographs, Bright’s sensuous—and deeply ethical—canvases extend her two-decade occupation with the landscape as both urgent environmental concern and contested artistic genre.

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Leroy Johnson, Grizzly Grizzly, Philadelphia (Artforum)

Dogs have played a supporting role in human culture since prehistory, serving as partners and protectors at home, work, and war; the unwitting subjects of medical and psychological abuse; and proxies onto whom we project human emotion and behavior. Explicitly drawing on a range of sources—Greek mythology, pop lyrics, biblical descriptions of Armageddon—eighty-one-year-old artist and activist Leroy Johnson focuses on canines in his densely worked and reworked charcoal and mixed-media drawings on view in “Dogs/Walls/Dark Energy.”  

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Suki Seokyeong Kang, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (Artforum)

For her first solo exhibition in a US museum, Seoul-based artist Suki Seokyeong Kang debuted a project centered on historical Korean conceptions of the grid as a spatial and social structuring device. In the traditional Chunaengjeon (Dance of the Spring Oriole) choreography, for example, the borders of the hwamunseok reed mat, with its crosshatched warp and weft, constrain the movements of a solo dancer; in the classical musical notation system jeongganbo, instructions for motion, vocals, and timing are marked inside a grid.

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Joy Feasley and Paul Swenbeck, Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan (Artforum)

Philadelphia-based artists Joy Feasley and Paul Swenbeck have been collaborating for thirty-five years alongside their work as museum preparators and as a painter and a sculptor, respectively. Titled after the mysterious lights and colors we see when we close our eyes—and inspired by a dream of Feasley’s—the exhibition “Out, Out, Phosphene Candle” continues their sustained exploration of the diverse scientific and mystic methods humans use to grapple with the unseen.

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Chris Corales, Fleisher/Ollman, Philadelphia (Artforum)

In his 2001 book Papier MachineJacques Derrida charts a cultural hierarchy of paper’s many purposes, from “priceless archive, the body of an irreplaceable copy, a letter or painting . . . as support or backing for printing” to, finally, the “throwaway object, the abjection of litter.” Chris Corales’s magpie practice restoratively collages found paper, cardboard, and related detritus into spare, abstract, yet allusive compositions that both reflect and transcend such teleological categories.

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Jane Irish, Locks Gallery and Lemon Hill Mansion, Philadelphia (Frieze)

‘I think even in my art historical training I was colonized early on,’ artist Jane Irish observed in a 2018 interview with Nato Thompson, referring to her initial education as a painter in the French modernist tradition – ‘looking at Matisse, Courbet, Degas’ – at The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, and the Maryland Institute (now MICA), Baltimore, in the 1970s. Throughout her four-decade career as a figurative painter, Irish has confronted that colonization with a (white, American) feminist consciousness of her shifting positions of power, vulnerability and responsibility.

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Jessi Reaves, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (Sculpture)

In Jessi Reaves’s recent exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, her sculptural furniture was integrated both formally and functionally with a group of surreal still-life paintings by fellow New Yorker Ginny Casey. Curator Charlotte Ickes described these complementary bodies of work as “two solo exhibitions.” The juxtaposition with Casey’s intensely colored paintings of unfinished objects and hovering body parts set in cavernous ateliers placed Reaves’s work within a context of conversations about the artist studio and the erotics of the psychoanalytic part-object.

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"Alchemy, Typology, Entropy," Fleisher/Ollman, Philadelphia (Two Coats of Paint)

Alchemy, Typology, Entropy at Fleisher/Ollman, Philadelphia, features painting and sculpture by three talented artists who live and work locally: Adam LovitzPeter Allen Hoffmann, and Alexis Granwell. The exhibition is one of several fantastic shows curated by Alex Baker this year—including CryptopictosPainters Sculpting/Sculptors Painting, and Person, Place or Thing—that collectively highlight the current energy, and formal and conceptual conversations, around painting among multiple generations of Philadelphia-based artists.

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Ann Hamilton, Fabric Workshop and Museum and Municipal Pier 9, Philadelphia (Sculpture)

In an interview published by Philadelphia’s FringeArts (2016), Ann Hamilton describes the dual impulses behind her four-decade-long practice and the multi-site exhibition she had recently mounted in the city: “Watching a raw material become a single thread, join other thread to become a warp or weft of a cloth or carpet holds for me all the possibilities for making; sewing and writing are for me two parts of the same hand.”

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Ginny Casey, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (Two Coats of Paint)

It’s a common story of contemporary art for artists to describe abandoning the two-dimensional confines of traditional painting on canvas for the more immediate materiality of sculpture, installation, or performance. In her 2016 memoir, for example, academy-trained painter Marina Abramović recalls her decisive moment: “Why should I limit myself to two dimensions when I could make art from anything: fire, water, the human body?” New York-based painter Ginny Casey recently described a far less storied move in the opposite direction.

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"Painters Sculpting/Sculptors Painting," Fleisher/Ollman, Philadelphia (Artforum)

While critics frequently compare Dona Nelson to far more celebrated postwar painters, “Painters Sculpting/Sculptors Painting” instead placed her work in conversation with that of a diverse group of younger artists. Nadine Beauharnois, Matt Jacobs, and Marc Zajack, like Nelson, are based in the Philadelphia area and remain anchored to traditional forms of painting and sculpture as well as to evergreen dialogues between figuration and abstraction. Staking her claim as the exhibition’s linchpin and underscoring her importance to subsequent generations…

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"Quicktime," Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, University of the Arts, Philadelphia (Two Coats of Paint)

In his influential Art in America article “Provisional Painting” (2009), critic Raphael Rubinstein traced a history—from Joan Miró to Mary Heilmann—of “works that look casual, dashed-off, tentative, unfinished or self-cancelling,” that “constantly risk inconsequence or collapse.” In Rubinstein’s analysis, this attitude provides an easier yoke for artists tired of laboring under modern painting’s grand and burdensome history.

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