SEMIOPTICON PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER / by Thomas Buildmore

Wonderful shows used to be unheard of in August. No more. The energetic, free-association painting covering the interior of Drexel University's Leonard Pearlstein Gallery makes for one of the most engaging, memorable shows this gallery has ever seen.

"Semiopticon," a black-and-white mural painted directly on the gallery's four walls by Thomas Buildmore and Morgan Thomas, takes its title from semiotics and the Panopticon. Semiotics, the study of sign processes, or signification, and how meaning is constructed, has inspired the bizarre but intuitive flow of imagery this mural depicts as you enter the gallery, look to your left, and begin to follow its trippy narrative, which eventually ends at the right of the entrance.

Its structure, one learns, is based on the Panopticon, a prison design that allows observers to view prisoners without the prisoners' knowing whether they are being watched.

As this crisp, cartoony spectacle of creation, religion, pop stars, profanity, and undefiled nature unfolded, I was reminded of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and its ambiguous sense of time. Like that novel, "Semiopticon" seems to suggest that different periods of time can be experienced simultaneously - a collapse that, in "Semiopticon," takes place literally on the same plane of time. In Buildmore and Thomas' story, Jean-Michel Basquiat comes right after the American Indians, but before Marilyn Monroe and L'il Orphan Annie.

But it's the shadow of Andy Warhol that looms most powerfully over "Semiopticon," and not just for its portrayals of Basquiat and Monroe and its clever imitations of screen-printing. The 15 minutes of fame the pop artist so famously predicted for everyone, some day, have finally met their mural.


Leonard Pearlstein Gallery, Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design at Drexel University, 3215 Market St., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. 215-895-2548 or www.drexel.edu/westphal. Through Sept. 11.SEMIOPTICON Philadelphia inquire 2009