The Philadelphia Museum of Art, stately and grand, perched on its acropolis like the literal and figurative temple of art that it is, contains never-ending pleasures of great reach and subtlety. You may be aware of the stellar European and American holdings - The Gross Clinic by favorite son Thomas Eakins is a highlight - but you might be surprised to find that its strengths include breathtaking Eastern art and architecture and a fine contemporary collection.
And, better than some other major museums I could mention, PMA makes an effort to reach out to the local art community, a move appropriate for a city with some of this country's top art schools, most within walking distance of the museum. At the moment, the result of this effort is the small but intriguing show Here and Now: Prints, Drawings, and Photographs by Ten Philadelphia Artists. I'm a works on paper artist myself, so this show was right up my alley. The premise is - works on paper by a selection of local artists of sound repute to one degree or another "ranging in age from 25 to 50" (an arbitrary limitation that strikes an oddly foolish note) - two long-term professors must be the upper limit (their dates are conveniently left off the signage), but most are young, ambitious, and very up-and-coming if not already arrived.
Two of the artists exhibit regularly at Gallery Joe, an excellent Old City showcase for works on paper: of the two, Mia Rosenthal was my immediate favorite. Her obsessive drawings pull you in close to to the twists and turnings on a hunt for the tiny little creatures that either are there, or that you imagine must be there, hiding in the foliage of her fine spidery lines. I especially loved the idea - and the fact too - of drawing the entire contents of a sample size box of Rice Krispies, laid out Krispie by Krispie in a sinuous necklace of precise, clean, detail on creamy paper.
Astrid Bowlby, the other Gallery Joe artist, is known for pushing her drawing off the wall to create Alice-in-Wonderland-like environments. Her offerings for the PMA show are fairly tame but they give the idea. (This installation is not in the exhibit)
In contrast to the small scale of Rosenthal's work, Serena Perrone works large; her woodcuts have a rugged, energetic quality that she tempers with fine detailed drawing in gold point and silver point. It's a highly unusual pairing that is at once startling and soothing.
Daniel Heyman's provocative drypoints are art politics in action - reportage portraits of former Abu Ghraib prisoners, scratched into a metal plate (writing backwards) on the spot as the men related their stories to an American lawyer. The crisp, saturated compositions have the urgency of this morning's newspaper headlines, to use a rapidly again metaphor, but in fact, Heyman's drawings testify to a world that is out of step with progress.
The photographs in the exhibit moved me less but that may be the viewpoint of an observer partial to drawing and the work of the human hand. Isaac Tin Wei Lin managed to straddle the line between the two - bold ink cyber-patterns in soft but edgy harmony (or disharmony) with pastel toned photographs.
The gallery for this show is easy to miss - across from the gift shop on the way to the cafeteria - a good space even if it feels a bit also-ran in such a grand museum.
(Thanks to Gallery Joe for Bowlby and Rosental images)
Here and Now: Prints, Drawings, and Photographs by Ten Philadelphia Artists is at The Philadelphia Museum of Art until December 4, 2011.
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