dragnet press from philadelphia inquirer

Galleries: 'Dragnet' brings dark, gritty views to South Street

What does an unjuried, uncurated group show of 48 artists whose works were accepted on a first-come, first-served basis look like?

Not as unprofessional or chaotic as you might imagine. Sage Project's "Dragnet: The Art Show" benefits from a smart, airy installation, and there are a few wonderful pieces in the formerly empty South Street storefront space that Sage, an artist-member organization, calls home.

There are times, of course, when "Dragnet" offers a powerful argument in favor of the juried or invitational show. Stylistically and philosophically, the works assembled here are all over the map. Still, it's fascinating to see a slice of the Philadelphia art scene that's so unremittingly dark and gritty, the terrain of photographer Zoe Strauss and video-installation wunderkind Ryan Trecartin.

The show's resonantly 1960s title - taken from the film noir-inspired TV series and chosen in advance of the open call - seems weirdly prescient. So does the poster of mug-shot-style photographs (by Heather Phillips) of all the show's artists hung at the front of the gallery, a promotional format that was clearly chosen in advance as well.

Two entirely different works dominate this show, and in vastly different ways.

Elliott Hasiuk's Screw Ball is a calculatedly creepy installation of found '60s and '70s paperbacks, from sci-fi to porno to how-to, piled on the floor and on a display ladder. A video monitor mounted behind the ladder can be seen between its steps, on its screen a film of disjointed found images that's accompanied by a similarly disjointed, disturbing audio. You have the sense you've entered a used-book store of early hippie-vintage owned by a Charles Manson follower.

And then there's Gerard Cerini's Sky, a life-size aluminum-foil sculpture of a nude man sitting on the floor and looking upward, arms wrapped around his knees, the embodiment of solidity and calm. While walking around it and looking at nearby works, I had the eerie sensation I was sharing the room with another living person. Sky has nothing in common with Duane Hanson's photorealist facsimiles of humans (not to mention Hanson's faithful renderings of clothing) - it's made entirely of aluminum - but it has the same uncanny presence.

Every possible style of painting is brought together in this show, but most of the work is moody and introspective. For all its brilliant Fauvist and Day-Glo color, Jed Williams' Speak to Me, a painting of a man who appears to be walking in a park and speaking on a cell phone, communicates separation and loneliness. Mark Dilk's thickly impastoed portrait of a man that could be based on a colonial American portrait, Take Out My Eyes, is as poignant as it is rich and tactile. Minimal abstract paintings by Assulu Kadyrzhanova, Arthur Ostroff, and Dustin Doran favor somber deep blues, near-black Payne's gray, dark green, and ochres.

Now and then, a relatively cheerful aberration seems to have snuck in, such as Joanathan Pappas' The Nuclear Family - six charming, seemingly happy, Gumby-like figures made of tape, clay, and wire, positioned on a wood block - and June B. Blumberg's Blue Lion, of a sweet-looking blue beast in watercolor and pastel on paper. But these, too - the figures with their forced smiles, the lonely lion - hint at a darker side.