A Closer Look 4

September 20–October 31, 2000
Beaver College Art Gallery


Beaver College Art Gallery is pleased to present "A Closer Look 4," the fourth in a series of exhibitions that presents in greater depth works by area artists previously included in the gallery's juried "Works on Paper" exhibitions. Curated by Alex Baker, former associate curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, the exhibition features recent projects by Susan Arthur, Aaron Igler, Nancy Lewis, and Matthew Wine. On view through September 20 through October 31, 2000, the show opens with a public conversation between Baker and the participating artists in Stiteler Auditorium at 6:30 PM, followed immediately by the opening reception in the gallery.


"A Closer Look: 4" continues a biennial series that presents in greater depth the work of selected artists who have previously exhibited in Beaver College’s juried "Works on Paper" shows. Matthew Wine, Aaron Igler, Nancy Lewis, and Susan Arthur share an affinity for both oblique narrative and a formal playfulness that is inherently complex. Whether personal, fictional, whimsical, or disturbing, the storytelling is often deferred or indirect. Their work, at first, appears light, perhaps even frivolous, in tone. However, lightness in attitude, composition, and even subject matter are points of entry into often more complicated ways of representing the world and the self. The exhibition, while showcasing Philadelphia artists, demonstrates the plurality of contemporary art practice as a whole and underscores the fact that not one particular mode predominates. It also proclaims an energy and excitement since all of the work on view was made specifically for this opportunity— literally "fresh" out of the studio. (Susan Arthur’s photographs, while taken over the course of the last two years, were printed anew for "A Closer Look: 4".)

Over the last few years Matthew Wine has investigated such issues as the masculinity of cowboy culture to formalistic and material-based concerns. In "A Closer Look: 4," Wine transforms the material of speckled multicolored foam carpet backing into a variety of eccentric three-dimensional volumes, a process he refers to as "turning the mundane into the exotic." Having utilized leather as a sculptural medium, which he found difficult to work with, he gravitated toward the foamy material for its pliability and unusual color. Resembling otherworldly creatures seemingly out of the prop department of a 1960s b-grade science fiction film production house, these biomorphic abstractions also reference the sick body, as well as viscera and brain matter. While Fester, 2000, hugs the ground resolutely, Doodle, 2000, has seemingly invaded the gallery like a virus, gravitating to places where most sculpture "feels" uncomfortable—underneath a table, hugging the corner of a windowsill, or high above the regular viewing zone near the ceiling.

Both of these works refuse easy categorization, or interpretation, offering instead a range of associations or quandaries. Are these objects intended to be benign or malignant, organic or synthetic, plant or animal, and—in reference to Fester’s possibility as furniture—utilitarian or useless? Wine’s explanation only highlights the conundrum of seeking literal meaning: "a carnivorous vegetable awaiting prime rib."

Just as Wine’s sculptures function on an associative level, as gateways for interpretation rather than things imbued with meaning, so does Aaron Igler’s video projection Models for the Floatable Delay of Light, 2000. Here, the chance intersection of images and sounds do not convey specific meanings, but act as prompts for us to make the viewing experience meaningful on our own terms. In this work, a pair of video loops depicting light from rotating, prism-like surfaces join a third image depicting an illuminated object darting across a South Philadelphia sky. The video images that fill the top segment of the projection resonate with the image below. The loops are accompanied by a dense audio track of synthesized sound accessed via headphones plugged into a customized seating unit. Igler also adds more subtle, external components to the work: a video projection of a full-moon is visible on the ceiling—an oculus that permits the entry of an outside "world"—and a second audio track, composed of both studio and field recordings, plays in the space, adding further density to the sound emanating from the headset. This second audio track references the larger video projection. The sounds sampled from outside Igler’s studio refer to the more reality-based image of the object flying over rooftops, while the electronic sounds refer to the more abstract prism images. The repetition of visual and aural stimuli, and the different thresholds that accompany each, creates a hypnotic environment that offers viewers the opportunity to create an individualized interior space while constructing their own associative narratives.

Nancy Lewis’s paintings, drawings, and prints have employed a vocabulary that includes fireworks, flames, diamonds, and other archetypal symbols that she revisits to convey her emotional state at the time each work was created. In relief to Wine and Igler, Lewis freely explores symbolic images, but is still hesitant to attribute specific meanings to them. For this exhibition, she has realized her first site-specific work, wraparound elaboration (for a ride), 2000, a 20-foot long image of a roller coaster. The roller coaster recurs in her work as both an emotional trope and as a reflexive exercise exploring the process of drawing itself whereby fine pencil lines eventually give form to a large structure. the tattoo studies are working drawings for images that the artist will eventually have professionally manufactured into "temporary" tattoos (the kind popular at novelty stores that last on the skin for about a week). Tattoos are both devotional images that can express love, memory, and faith, as well as idiosyncratic "utterances" that represent particular feelings at the time of inscription. Lewis’s studies function similarly. They include a memorial to her recently deceased cat, a traditional "sailor art" image complete with birds and name scroll (although firmly rooted in Lewis’ style), icons that recur in her other work, such as hearts and diamonds, and the truly oddball, such as the wheelbarrow of steaming excrement. In her painting, giant mini-flame freaks meet the sky, 2000, Lewis draws from Chinese landscape and Indian miniature painting, as well as popular culture. The sliver of starry sky juxtaposed with rows of highly detailed and exuberantly colored flames bring to mind an inverted Vija Celmins painting with a California hotrod twist. The flames get increasingly smaller from the bottom of the canvas upward; yet, as their scale decreases, the flames become more intense and interconnected, transforming the miniature into the gigantic.

Like Lewis, Susan Arthur is also concerned with scale, creating fanciful diorama-like compositions where marshmallow "peeps," colorful candy chicks, rabbits, ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, and snowmen often predominate. Arthur photographs the peeps close up and/or at ground level as if having gained permission to enter and document the little worlds she herself has created. This body of work presents the garish creatures in natural settings where the artist carefully composes tension between nature and artifice, combining, for instance, baby-blue peep chicks with lavender flowers, in Peeps and Lavender, 1998. This marriage of seemingly disparate perspectives informs the artist’s work by way of autobiography and artistic influence. As a youngster in the 1960s, she was captivated by the wild, day-glo colors embodied in popular culture, fashion, and art—in relief to the muted tones of her New England upbringing. The contrived scenes she photographs, in part, stem from her admiration of the Czech photographer, Joseph Sudek, who created a magic garden in his backyard as the setting for his photographs. Although peeps may be perceived as cute, harmless, inanimate confections, a poignant, anthropomorphism and loneliness haunts these vibrant pictures. Other photographs, such as Waterworks Graffiti, 2000 and White Table, 1999, may be devoid of her candy favorites, but nonetheless, convey a forlorn sensibility. Seatbelt with Bunny, 2000, strays from the theme of juxtaposing nature and artifice by presenting a blurry peep near the bottom edge of an automobile, which is hardly recognizable save for the seatbelt poking out of the door. The peep seems to have lost its way out of the security of the colorful garden and has entered into a more foreboding world.

In the end, all four artists provide us with cues of varying intensities that ask us to construct narratives. The cues that Lewis and Arthur offer us are more representational, and therefore more easily deciphered, while Wine and Igler’s require us to enter headlong into a more associative search for meaning in the work. However, none of the artists gives us a key in which to easily access their narrative consciousness. Like Lewis’s roller coaster drawing, narrative appears both linear and circular, stable and rickety, closed and yet forever deferred.


Until June of this year, guest curator Alex Baker was associate curator of the ICA, Philadelphia, a position he'd held since 1996. During his tenure there he developed numerous exhibitions featuring the work of international as well as area artists– including "Biographies: Philadelphia Narratives," which he co-curated with Judith Tannenbaum. Baker also conceived and organized the wildly popular "Sticker Shock" (1998) and this spring's "Indelible Market" (part of the exhibition "Wall Power"). Now an independent curator, Baker is currently completing his doctorate in Cultural Anthropology at Temple University. He will return to the ICA in May, 2000, as a guest curator of "East Meets West: 'Folk' and Fantasy from the Coasts," an exhibition featuring three Philadelphia artists and three San Franciscans.


"A Closer Look" was initiated in 1995 as a biennial series to present more comprehensively the work of artists who have been included in the gallery's juried "Works on Paper" shows. The series provides an opportunity to consider an expanding roster of Philadelphia-based artists in the context of small group shows underscoring relationships among the exhibited works.

Funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Friends and Advisory Board of the Beaver College Art Gallery.