Reverberations at PAFA

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, with Robert Cozzolino curating, has brought an exhibition to Philadelphia that I think we should be grateful to have, I certainly am. Mr. Cozzolino has carefully chosen artwork from the vast collection of Bank of America and brought together a show that is thoughtfully arranged.

As you enter the lobby of PAFA, at Broad and Cherry Streets, the Reverberations begin with a huge, red, early painting by Elizabeth Murray. I see this painting symbolically as the largest outer ring of a pattern made when a stone is thrown in a lake. Through the door your eye is caught by a vibrant Sam Francis piece. This signals the nice mix of East/West Coast artists that echos throughout the entire show, both upstairs and down. To your right is a small painting by Milton Avery (shown above), the cornerstone of the show for me. When you see those simple Avery-shapes next to the beautiful Helen Frankenthaler poured painting, you can't help but make the connection. The succession of art and artist reflecting back on each other again and again is enough that I am going back for more.

You can't look at the work that was chosen without taking into consideration that PAFA is a teaching institution. I couldn't help but think that many of these artists are the biggest rule breakers you could expose to a student. The Murray piece is divided exactly in half with line work, something students are generally taught not to do. Murray, Frankenthaler and Milton Avery bunch up all the interest either in the center or to the sides of the canvas, a big no no. Of course they all realized that rules need to be learned with the same commitment that they need to be broken.

Another example of this is Sam Gilliam, who will speak about his work at Annenberg Gallery on August 14, who does away with stretcher bars and right angles completely by painting on fabric that is then pinned to the wall.

An excellent example of a Frank Stella shaped painting shows his incremental movement towards sculpture. This piece reminds me of an alter piece, which then reminds me of the early patrons of the arts, the church and the Medici bankers. In many of the reviews of this show the critics seem to feel it is necessary to make a political point of the fact that BofA is a large corporation and that that is somehow questionable. I personally am happy that they are wiling to share their holdings with me and have no problem with businesses showing support for the arts and artists through collecting.

Lastly there is the space. Besides the new Perelman Building, the galleries at PAFA are the finest in the city for enjoying contemporary art. Bring your BofA card with you because if you're a member admission is free.