The Philadelphia Inquirer
By Edith Newhall
January 3, 2010

You have to hand it to Seraphin Gallery for standing strong when practically every other gallery in Philadelphia caved to the holidays with shows of festive, entertaining, or at least eminently sellable art. True, you could buy one of Natalie Alper's abstract paintings on paper, which make up a tidy one-person show in Seraphin's back room - they're quite beautiful, suggestive of crackling energy and thickets. But to get to them you first must walk through the gallery's much larger, more impressive front space, which has been given over to another solo show, an installation of photographs and objects by Víctor Vázquez, a Puerto Rican artist who lives in San Juan. His "dislocation, displacement, encounter" is so dramatically somber, so pointedly humanist, you wonder if the gallery timed it to coincide with the greediest season.

A large color diptych photograph shows two figures sitting on chairs facing each other in a park, flags carefully wrapped around their heads to look like hoods. Another diptych shows three young men facing a wall, as if awaiting execution, with a white line painted on the wall that continues across the men's backs. The white line, clearly a symbol of borders and divisions, appears in other multi-panel photographs: being painted by two human hands; drawn in chalk in the contours of a figure lying face down; as a decorative element on a police truck; as strips of cloth placed atop leaf-shaped clay fragments, with leaf patterns etched into them that look like ancient petroglyphs.

There also are photographs of figures in costumes made of flags, with arrangements of ceramic cubes on the grass. Those same cubes are arranged on the gallery's floor, and also are incised with petroglyphlike symbols. Among the cubes, Vázquez has placed neat piles of white paper, some pieces printed with his photographs, some not. Immigration papers and police reports come to mind.

Looking through the catalog that Seraphin published, you see that Vázquez's installation, which has traveled to other venues, is somewhat larger than its presentation here and that it benefits from a more austere, contemporary architectural space than Seraphin's.

Still, it's hard to imagine that any location would dispel this installation's generic, moribund quality. Too many of the pictures look staged or Photoshopped, and the papers and cubes aren't especially compelling as objects. This feels like a geopolitical lesson, and a hard one to follow at that.

Alper, meanwhile, has clearly thrown all her energy into her small paintings of lines that seem to be building into masses, exploding, and attracting and repelling each other (she calls her series "Energy Fields" and compares some of her works to electromagnetic fields).

Alper's slightly jittery line reminds me of Susan Rothenberg's, but her paintings are entirely abstract and spontaneous.


Seraphin Gallery  l  Contemporary Philadelphia Art Gallery and Art Consultant 
1108 Pine St.  l  215-923-7000  l