The recent acquisition of a Brie Ruais piece by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts featured on Daily News Philly.
Occasional visitors to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ Hamilton Building may not realize that its upstairs hallway is a gallery that regularly plays host to some of PAFA’s more absorbing shows.
The latest arrival, “Intimate Immensity,” organized by sculptor and PAFA faculty member Alexis Granwell, is immediately recognizable as an exhibition. It’s also one of the few shows I’ve seen there that fully — and often thrillingly — engages this blah rectangular space and its distracting open entrances to other galleries.
This time, the art is the only diversion.
Granwell’s inspiration for her show is an essay of the same title by the influential French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, which led her to artists who evoke a sense of intimacy in works that on their face seem bolder or more strikingly expansive.
It is these three artists who offer the show’s most compelling examples of intimacy in immensity.
Lasserre veers between large, freestanding oval structures that bring to mind stretched canvases and cheval mirrors, and twisty freestanding and hanging forms that look like line drawings writ in air and strangely alive and probing.
Segre’s large, freestanding sculptures involve found objects and share some similarities with Lasserre’s work, particularly their extenuated forms and fabric-wrapped surfaces. If Lasserre seems a descendant of Calder, Segre’s childlike exuberance and naivete is reminiscent of Miro.
At first glance, Ruais’ monumental wall-mounted pieces, from which parts have been ripped (the torn-away parts are also on display), might appear to be abstract paintings composed from some extremely thick medium. They’re actually fabricated from stoneware, with roughed-up, tactile surfaces that offer direct evidence of Ruais’ strenuous physical engagement with her work. I’d say she’s caught the true spirit of intimate immensity.
Granwell’s own papier-mache sculptures on wood pedestals are also of modest scale. They hint at human forms, too, though hers look like abstractions of wrestlers in contorted poses.
Other works are so in-your-face they appear too large for their circumscribed boundaries, as though they’d burst out into a room if you let them. That’s especially true of a Louise Bourgeois drypoint of an enormous cat face that fills an entire print, from PAFA’s Art by Women Collection.
It’s also true of another work from that collection, an untitled painted porcelain test plate made by Judy Chicago during the production of her iconic feminist work The Dinner Party. The plate’s image depicts an artichoke-like plant, but there’s no missing the vagina at its center.
Through April 7 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118-128 N. Broad St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 215-972-7600 or pafa.org.