Immortal Beauty at Drexel’s Leonard Pearlstein Gallery

By Lauren FindlayOctober 21, 2015

Lauren visits a collection of luxurious garments at Drexel University, where velvet and lace write a history of antique to modern fashion. -- artblog editor

In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Marilyn Monroe sings (arguably) her most famous song, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”. She sings and dances on a magnificent pink stage in all of her pink satin glory, THE image of 1950s femininity and girlishness. I think Immortal Beauty at the Robert & Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection took a cue from that set—I walked into the exhibit, only to be greeted by a space that was like a chic, deep pink, elegant version of what every tiny girl wants their closet to look like when they grow up. Collection curator Clare Sauro set up six platforms displaying fashions in chronological order, the dress forms turning towards the viewer in warm greeting, eager to show us what they are wearing.

A butterfly-esque creation from the 1950s.

Timeless beauty

The collection was originally founded in the late 1890s by A.J. Drexel, the founder of Drexel University. Since its birth, the collection has served as an academic resource for Drexel’s fashion design students, and other students and scholars who make appointments to view pieces from the expansive collection. Robert and Penny Fox, Penn alumni and members of Philadelphia high society, currently hold the keys to the collection. The couple invested in the collection in order to make it more accessible to the public (for example, holding this public exhibition), and both Foxes serve on a number of arts-based boards around the city.

In this exhibition, the Collection presents—for the first time—its finest specimens crafted from silk and leather, chiffon and jeweled brocade. The collection is all women’s clothing and ranges from the popular day dress à la palonaise from the 1780s, to contemporary additions by Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Manolo Blahnik, and enough Halston to make the most seasoned fashionista weep.

The show is broken up into three parts: Origins, Growth, and Renewal. We are first greeted by Origins, which includes some of the earliest acquisitions of the collection—and its earliest piece, an Italian textile fragment from 1550. The textile is like something we would see a noblewoman wearing in a da Vinci painting, the pattern in the backdrop of a portrait. Walking among these pieces is like looking inside of a time capsule—the clothing and objects that occupied the wearer’s everyday life are like miniature, precious pieces of the paintings and sculptures that we, as a society, have come to prize and treasure as symbols of an ornate and beautiful past. We are reminded that these objects were made with the intention of lasting a lifetime—an idea that seems to have become foreign to all of us who replace our wardrobes with every change of the season.

I’m also reminded of all of the films I love, specifically because they contain objects and costumes that date back to this time—and from there, I realize that everything in those films are based on and inspired by the fashion and accessories resting neatly before me.

Lace comes to life

There was a particular parasol by La Esmerelda (Hauser Zivy & Cie.) and Peter Carl Fabergé—a French and Russian collaboration from 1900—that has a painting on the end of the umbrella, probably no bigger than a quarter. The umbrella is a creamy, lace frill of a thing presented in an ornate, slim case, and sleeps upon a cream satin pillow. It is the epitome of the sheer opulence and frivolity that went into Fabergé objects—the entire image of ornate flamboyance crammed into one delicate, lacy object. We can imagine a highborn woman carrying an object like this: a woman who completely relied on a husband or family to help her live, and in a way was a sort of show horse displaying her family or husband’s wealth.

The next phase is Growth, focusing on the collection as it was in the 1950s when the Drexel Historic Costume Collection had roughly 2,000 objects and when the Nan Duskin Laboratory of Costume Design opened in 1959. During this time, the collection swelled to over 7,000 objects—evening gowns from the 1800s made of Indian muslin and English silk, silk bias-cut evening gowns from the 1930s, and the beautiful works of Christian Dior, objects we’ve imagined from descriptions by Jane Austen and F. Scott Fitzgerald and have only seen brought to life in the films created from their novels. An evening gown by Charles James from 1948 stands on display at the far end of the room, reminiscent of the dress in John Singer Sargent’s famous “Madame X” portrait. Farther across the platform, a strapless blue James Galanos evening gown from 1959 sits in all of its shimmering, floral-woven blue splendor.

Objects of desire

These two pieces demonstrate the difference in a decade of fashion—the Charles James piece from the 1940s exudes a femme-fatale type allure, while the Galanos from the 1950s is lighter and fresher and holds a certain air of innocence. These two garments are living proof of the stereotypes that women played in the 1930s up until the early 1960s. A woman was the Betty Draper/Grace Kelly Madonna wife making Jell-O for guests in a frothy, floral blue silk number, or she was the Rita Hayworth femme fatale type in velvet and blood-red satin.

The last platforms and cases display the ascent into modern, contemporary, 21st-century fashion, with pieces by Madame Grès, Christian Lacroix, and Carolina Herrera. And while gazing lovingly across the dress forms of sequins and feathers and mesh and lace, my eye was arrested by a showstopping evening gown by Halston. It is like something we’d find on a Hellenistic sculpture—or Angelina Jolie at the Oscars. The most wonderful thing about this garment is its simplicity—the cool, off-white silk is like a breath over the form of the mannequin, the knot at the bust seeming to be the only thing holding the silk to the body.

Grecian-inspired evening wear by Halston.

Immortal Beauty. The title of the show is self-explanatory. The Robert & Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection shows us a well-curated, well-preserved fragment of fashion history that displays the creme de la creme of fashion’s finest moments in history—objects that make our hearts beat a little faster (oh Halston, how I yearn for thee) and show top-notch craftsmanship and examples of timeless design. Fashion is known for recycling its ideas and notions and re-forming them again and again. If that idea holds true at all, I can only hope that I will be wearing Italian brocade with beaded Schiaparelli shoes next season.

Immortal Beauty is on view Oct. 2 – Dec. 12 at the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery of Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. The gallery is free and open to the public, Tuesday – Sunday from 11 am – 6 pm.

Experience of Place at Bridgette Mayer Gallery

By lauren findlay

September 27, 2015   ·   

[Lauren is transported by a dreamy show centering on ideas of place and belonging. She highlights a few of her favorite pieces. — Artblog editor]

“Place” is a word that embodies the idea of belonging somewhere–“everything in its right place,” “put him in his place”. For such a common and frequently used word, it possesses an incredible amount of sentimentality and power. Place, within the realm of art, holds a prominent and constantly visited position. It is an idea that has been taken, sculpted out of clay, smashed, and rebuilt more times than we can count. From Monet’s landscapes on display at this past summer’s Impressionism blockbuster at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to the fresh works of painter Becky Suss at the Institute of Contemporary Art, it is apparent that landscape and the notion of place will endure another set of transformations in the years to come.

Enter Bridgette Mayer Gallery–a space well known for its contemporary displays of landscape, photography, and the modern medium–and home to Experience of Place. The current exhibition highlights the works of Eileen Neff and Sharon Harper (Bridgette Mayer veterans), Jessica Backues, Michael Eastman, and Brea Souders, and creates a dialogue between five different artists translating their vision of place.

Tropical locales and dramatic moods

Eileen Neff is no stranger to place. There’s a good chunk of her portfolio that is strictly landscape-based–her last show at Bridgette Mayer, Traveling Into View, contained images from a recent residency in Costa Rica, and we can still taste the humidity in the works at Experience of Place. Neff’s work usually possesses a certain crispness and exquisite sense of calm, which was apparent in her last show. This time around, Neff uses warmer saturations in a few of her photographs to create a rather unsettling, eerie effect. “Clouds Below,” in particular, was a standout. The dark, blurred photo appears to be have been taken from the window of a moving vehicle, or with unsteady footing at the top of a mountain. Black trees and gray skies are permeated by ocher-yellow clouds so dense, they look like snow. The silhouettes of tropical trees lead me away from the thought of snow, and more than anything, we can feel the thickness of the air. The light imitates the sepia coloring of the first color photographs–dark, moody, romantic, and incredibly unsettling.

Similar to “Clouds Below” is “Sun Setting,” which contains more of Neff’s trademark crispness, but possesses the same coloring as “Clouds”. However, the former appears to be taken from the top of a mountain while the latter seems trapped–perhaps “Sun Setting” is the photo representation of someone wishing to go to “Clouds Below”–and from there, our emotions toward Neff’s work shift into an idea of yearning to travel, an undying wanderlust.

Abstracted views

Sharon Harper, “Watching the Grand Canyon for an Hour (5:11 AM – 6:30 AM) 7 June 2013,” vertical triptych, Haman fiber prints mounted on archival 4-ply museum board, 102 3/4″ by 51 1/2″, edition of 5.

And on the topic of wanderlust, we travel to the works of Sharon Harper. Harper, also a veteran of Bridgette Mayer, consistently channels a love of science and the sky into her mechanical, scientific works. Neff and Harper present similar notions of wanderlust and exploration of the unknown world–a small selection of Harper’s work in this show includes tropical, volcanic images from Hawaii, New Mexico, and the Canary Islands. They are huge, glossy images that look like they’re fresh off the press of National Geographic. “Native Calms Fruit and Offering” is a gray image of volcanic rock with fruit that is such a bright shade of green, it almost hurts our eyes and bleeds from the frame. Harper also shows a grouping of her more traditional work at the back of the gallery, with a triptych of fiber prints entitled, “Watching the Grand Canyon for an Hour (5:11 AM – 6:30 AM”. This is the breathtaking work that we ache to see from Harper, and that she continually delivers: shimmering vignettes of beauty that could only be captured by a camera.

The most magnetic part of these is not the location itself; one almost cannot even tell what is in the background. What is so astonishing are the shimmering reflections of light bouncing into the camera and creating transparent, geometric shapes in the lens–something our naked eye would not be able to capture on its own. The presentation of these photos is like looking at something a NASA scientist would be trying to make sense of, an image from another part of the galaxy, a sunrise on another planet. We would never be able to see these images if not for the magic of photography. This tiny machine manages to capture an entire realm of light and imagery that our human eyes are not advanced enough to view.

Bright colors and contrasts

Jessica Backhaus, “Some Traces” (2015), digital C-print, 20″ by 30″.

Perhaps a slight bit more in our bounds and just a tad more playful in subject matter is Jessica Backhaus, who presents us with a kaleidoscope of C-prints that take the viewer back to Southern California in the 1970s–fuzzy like a daydream. Her images display shots from windows, in rippling puddles, double exposures, fading, and truly extraordinary colors. The poetry of Backhaus’ work is that we cannot fully see anything–we get a feeling that she doesn’t want us to peer into her memories, or, perhaps, that the memories captured in the photo are already being forgotten. We can only see hints of buildings, flashes of color, slight ideas of geography. There’s a faint resemblance to El Guicho’s “Bombay” music video (directed by Nicolás Méndez), which is a combination of a vintage, 1970s-era filter on the camera, and the modern themes of pop culture that all of the millennials seem to love.

Brea Souders, in a similar fashion, takes the photography norm of our day (hyperreal, journalism-esque) and transforms it into something authentic and refreshing with vibrant saturation and crisp, playful imagery. Belize plays into the theme of the show with a sliver of tropical colors and textures. Souders, whose process includes taking photo scraps and negatives and repurposing them, creates a tasteful and minimalist image that really emphasizes on the beauty of the color in her location (and clearly takes a cue from Eileen Neff’s Traveling Into View show, which I previously mentioned). Even more interesting is the relation to the first color photograph by James Clerk Maxwell of a Christmas bow. Another notable piece is “French Bed and Moon,” an image of a photo resting on a bed with a loud, pink floral cover.

Also included in the show is Michael Eastman, whose opulent and ornate photographs are reminiscent of the home style sections in Vanity Fair or Vogue. The chromogenic prints each have some sort of doorway or portal: from an arch in a beautiful living room to a view from the top of an electric-yellow escalator, the door is something we notice in his work. “Moorish Facade” takes a brilliant blue Moroccan archway and, through the doorway, we can see a collection of plush, red velvet couches–a scene that could have come straight from an Ingres painting. Eastman’s work, along with the rest of the featured artists, does not necessarily exude a sense of belonging, so much as a feeling of wanting to belong–yearning to be somewhere else, whether it be Hawaii, Morocco, a hazy bedroom, or a world between worlds.

Experience of Place is on display at Bridgette Mayer Gallery until October 30, 2015.

Fringe 2015: ‘Still Standing You’ (second review) Gollum and the Gypsy

Lauren Findlay

September 15, 2015

in Dance

Still Standing You is simultaneously the most barbaric and brilliant theater piece I have ever seen. Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido exhibit merciless stamina and a primitive, macho, mine-is-bigger-than-yours performance that is mixed in with touching displays of affection and boyish playfulness.


Growling and hissing. (Photo by Phile Deprez)

Upon entering the theater, we are greeted by Guilherme, who sits on the bottom of Pieter’s feet, chattering candidly in a thick Portuguese accent and creating a comfortable, laughable atmosphere, as Pieter’s legs hold him up without so much as a wobble (until about 10 minutes in, at least). Guilherme is like some kind of charming court jester — the witty and worldly exchange student we all loved in high school. Pieter, who is silent while this is happening, eventually caves and sends Guilherme careening across the stage. The performance begins.

The two men stay in their established characters throughout the entire performance. Guilherme maintains an air of silliness and charm, while Pieter, silent in the beginning, only hisses and growls. It’s like watching a crocodile and a plover bird on National Geographic, though Pieter reminded me of Sméagol/Gollum from Lord of The Rings (he’s got that “my precious” thing down) and Guilherme reminded me of Clopin Trouillefou, the head of the Gypsies, from Disney’s animated Hunchback of Notre Dame. Or Batman and Robin, if they were cavemen.

Strenuous physicality

I was continually shocked that neither of the performers had broken bones, although since this show has been touring since 2010, I’m sure their bodies are well accustomed to their strenuous physicality. The performers mesh their bodies into each other and begin their violent array of mesmerizing acrobatics: Guilherme suffocates Pieter with his own beard; Guilherme uses his ankles as stepping stones for Pieter, who walks across the stage striking Arnold Schwarzenegger poses and growling at the audience; Pieter grabs Guilherme by the pants and arms and swings him in circles, hovering above the floor, while Guilherme hums along in a high-pitched circus tune, before Pieter lets go and Guilherme goes flying across the stage. Then they start ripping off their clothes. They grab and jiggle each other’s fat (“The cheeesesteaaaak!” growls Guilherme), they wipe off their sweat on one another. Then they take off all of their clothes, and things get really interesting.

In their stark nakedness, Guilherme is bronzed like a bottle of Coppertone and Pieter is the exact contrast with skin the color of milk. Once the clothes come off, they are reduced to “man.” Man in the sense of the first man. I’m talking caveman. They grab one another by the penis and remain connected that way for a decent amount of time, twisting and writhing around each other. Pieter grabs and stretches Guilherme’s manhood, screaming at it, before twisting it like a piece of rope. They create a small symphony just from the slapping sounds their penises make. They demonstrate different ways to show “mine is bigger than yours.” Pieter attaches himself to Guilherme like a baby koala to his mother, and Guilherme uses his nails to scratch a heart into his back, raw and pulsing red. It is cringeworthy, but you can’t stop watching.

Combat and pride

The combat and pride begin to melt toward the end of the performance, when the two men have completely depleted their energy. They start by leaning on each other, in various different poses, before completely meshing their bodies together into one form. The contrast between the colors of their skin and the sweat glistening off of both of their bodies creates something magic and beautiful, and at that point, I can’t believe I am looking at two bodies. They breathe in harmony, and as the last moments of the performance come, the audience is truly aware that they have just experienced perhaps the most intimate and heart-wrenching performance they have ever seen.

The title says it all — Guilherme and Pieter tell us a story about a friendship between two men — the ups and downs of a friendship, the tolerance in a friendship, the anger, jealousy, support, joy. No matter what, they stand one another.

Fringe 2015: ‘50 Days at Iliam’ by Hannah Van Sciver Coming Full Circle

September 10, 2015

in Theater

My inner art-history-dork-pretentious-art-school-snob was intrigued when I found out that Fifty Days at Iliam was a show about Cy Twombly’s monumental Fifty Days at Iliam. The room devoted to it at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is one that, as a museum employee, I frequent on lunch breaks and desk breaks and essentially any break I have during the day. The stark white room permeated by Twombly’s violent yet childish flashes of bright red and blue is one that is oddly calming, despite the violent nature of the paintings.

 

Twombly and Rauschenberg / Patroclus and Achilles (Photo by Dave Sarrafian)

Hannah Van Sciver’s take on Fifty Days at Iliam was not at all what I expected, which was a dark, overdramatic interpretation of Twombly’s tortured paintings, a performance filled with violence and classical monologues. Instead, the audience was served a sensual, rhythmic, playful, and thoughtful take on the inner workings of the artist.

The audience was ushered into the intimate theater on a very humid September evening. A Greek chorus of sorts greeted the audience, humming in harmony with some gentle, Greek-inspired acoustic guitar. Seats were set up around the perimeter of a large, white, rectangular tarp with Van Sciver sitting in the center, staring intensely at a stark white sheet set up at the end of the narrow theater. Van Sciver, as Twombly, began dancing in perfect, synchronized rhythm with a woman in all white (Elizabeth Audley).

Speaking the truth

The woman, we learn, is Cassandra, the daughter of Priam and Hecuba. According to myth, she fell asleep in a temple, only to have her ears licked by snakes, which gave her the ability to hear the future. Within psychology there is something called the Cassandra Complex, in which a valid concern is dismissed or disbelieved. Twombly dances with Cassandra throughout the entire performance; she remains to be the only constant companion to Twombly’s character, the only person he seems happy to see. Delving deeper into their relationship, it can be observed that Twombly and Cassandra both consistently speak their truth and are dismissed by figures in society. They are kindred spirits.

The show chronicles Twombly’s creation of Iliam, starting in art school where a stern professor/Hector (Richard Chan) starts a 50-day lesson in drawing the “perfect circle,” which Twombly is unable to do. Only one of his classmates understands him — Robert Rauschenberg (Joseph Ahmed). We quickly begin to recognize him as Achilles, the famed war hero of Homer’s tales, who becomes his lover. Rauschenberg/Achilles is bold and confident and often protects Twombly, while at the same time trying to extract him from his artwork, so Twombly leaves him. We are reminded of the accepted homoerotic relationship between Achilles and Patroclus in Homer. In a series of epic “battles” (they begin as silly dance battles before evolving into violence), Hector and Achilles fight. In the context of the play, Rauschenberg is fighting his professor from art school, a.k.a., the classical ideas of painting. (If you’ve gone to art school, you know that actually feels like the Trojan War).

Hyper-masculinity

Twombly’s Fifty Days at Iliam paintings have huge phallic symbols with the names of Agamemnon, Achilles, Hector, and other Homeric men scrawled across the canvases. This play made sense of the emphasis on hyper-masculinity in Twombly’s series. Twombly seemed extremely uncomfortable with his sexual orientation, and it makes sense that he flees to a place — Greece — where he can make his artwork in peace, and one that is well known for an era in time when masculine icons were not penalized for engaging in same-sex relationships.

The show toggles between feelings of playfulness (mostly demonstrated by Achilles, whose character truly resembled a rooster strutting around in a field of hens) and anxious self-loathing (mostly demonstrated by the somber Cassandra). At the end of the show Twombly is seated in the center of a filthy tarp, covered in charcoal and water and looking truly like an artist after coming to a cathartic breakthrough (or perhaps the Trojan War?), gazing upon the same blank sheet from the beginning of the show. On the tarp, there is a horribly uneven circle. Twombly sits and gazes upon the circle and for the first time in the show, we see the artist in a state of self-acceptance, alone with his irregular circle.

…the better to hold you with, my dear… Lisa Conn at Space 1026

By lauren findlay

August 28, 2015   ·   0 Comments


[Lauren enthuses over a colorful multimedia show by Lisa Conn, who’s long parlayed her inventive ideas into children’s books and other illustrations. — the artblog editors]

Space 1026 has a knack for narrative artwork, and the gallery most definitely taps into Philadelphia’s craze for narrative, street-inspired illustration with Lisa Conn’s new show, …the better to hold you with, my dear… Conn, who joins ArtStar Boutique, Paradigm Gallery, and J.O.G. (where she’s shown previously) in a celebration of stylized, friendly illustration, now presents wonderfully romantic notions of Einstein’s Spooky Theory–which is, in short, when particles are joined, then separated by a specific distance, and each can feel what the other feels despite the distance between them. Conn combines this theory with an interest in mythology to create her characters, which she calls “Tree Saint Girls”. With hints of Margaret Keane’s “Big Eyes” paintings, Dr. Seuss-ian colors and creatures, Adventure Time illustration, and few dashes of Tim Burton’s influence and Gustav Klimt-esque patterns, …the better to hold you with, my dear… comes to fruition.

Interconnected and immersive

Conn’s installation/mural involves 12 wood panels, paintings on the walls between them, and a Dr. Seuss-meets-marionette sculpture hanging from the ceiling in the center of the room at about four feet high. The 12 panels create a tiling around the room, with plenty of space between them to encompass the various rose petals, flamingos, text, and swirling woodland wildlife Conn added to the walls. Cartoonish blood splashes across the walls as well, connecting a few of the paintings. Conn doesn’t stick to one material–her labor-intensive works are a result of some divine chemistry between acrylic and house paints, with linework executed in oil marker. She is not a planner, she says, but allows the woodgrain in the panels she paints on to guide her intuition.

Jotted-down cursive complements the menagerie of flora and fauna; poetic definitions of “entanglement,” “saint,” and “martyr” make appearances, and when coupled with Conn’s sweet, lively, and whimsical paintings, they create an effect that truly reaches into your chest and pulls at each individual heartstring. Her resume says Conn has done children’s book illustration and freelance illustration, and her website has a picture of a wall mural she did at Benna’s Café, where she’s a barista–it’s easy to see her deep connection to storytelling. The paintings are executed as diptychs, although each piece could easily stand on its own. The amount of painstaking detail applied to the linework of each painting is impressive, and the radiant rainbow of colors accentuated with black and gold is just about as saturated as the cartoons I watched every Saturday morning when I was a kid.

Sweet but dark sculpture

And, of course, we cannot forget the Seussian sculpture in the center of the gallery. There’s a sort of Wall-Emeets The Lorax vibe to him, tinged with just a little bit of dark humor that you might find in an Alex Pardee illustration. Conn uses bright bits of paper shaped like feathers to coat his exterior, and a combination of cardboard, tulle, yarn…he is mostly white with two rainbows for eyebrows, a multicolored torso, and two extremely long and thin arms that look like they were ripped out of their sockets and the string messily strewn about is the blood pouring out–all frozen in time. He looks sweet and lovable from one angle until you realize his arms are being ripped out and his legs are gone, and he’s melting in a puddle. There’s a Lennie from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men sort of appeal to him–something pathetic, yet sympathetic.

Right past Lennie on the edge of the wall are Conn’s definitions of “entanglement,” “saint,” and “martyr”. A particularly beautiful phrase sits beneath the word “entanglement”. The definition states: “when two particles are so deeply linked they share the same existence”. Conn feels that martyrdom and the Spooky Theory are related–if there is one being or particle suffering somewhere in the world, its counterpart is feeling that pain as well. Conn’s paintings are all connected in the gallery by the art in between the works; they are entangled, and the diptych presentation of her Tree Saints is a really beautiful and simple way of portraying her Spooky Theory. …the better to hold you with, my dear… leaves a bittersweet taste in our mouths, and a faint smell of the forest tickling our noses.

Summer Reading List at Arch Enemy Arts

By lauren findlay

July 22, 2015   ·   0 Comments

[Lauren reminisces about summer assignments and classic literature–the playful topic of this group show. Artists chose the media they preferred to bring their favorite books to life. — the artblog editors]

Arch Enemy Arts, famous for representing illustrative, street-influenced artwork, has assigned a sentimental project to its artists. Summer Reading List invites 20 artists to recreate their favorite book in the medium of their choice, each piece a faint reminder of summers past–lying in thick, hot air with sticky Popsicle fingers turning the pages of our school-assigned summer reading. Arch Enemy presents us with an exhibition rich in character and narrative. The chosen artists tell us their dearest tales through painstakingly detailed drawings, psychedelic colors, and cheeky sculptures.

From humor to high drama

Valency Genis’ sculptural representation of Moby Dick is the unofficial, proverbial mascot of Summer Reading List–and undeniably the most charming. The concoction of materials–wood, wire, epoxy, clay, rope, metal, acrylic and oil paints–all combine in the shape of a Tim Burton-esque claymation whale that looks dangerously close to human. Genis, playing off the bizarre tradition of mounting trophy catches of fish, has made her whale sculpture appear as if he swam into the frame by accident, and he’s looking around to see if any of his friends are at the party. By the look in his little eyes, it looks like Captain Ahab just walked in (so awkward).

Hail, Horror, Hail” by Robert Kraiza depicts the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton. Paradise Lost is a two-part poem that chronicles the fall of man through Adam and Eve and Lucifer. Kraiza’s incredibly detailed graphite illustration shows Adam and Eve standing in the garden of Eden, a snake seductively extending toward Eve while Adam stands holding what we can assume is the forbidden fruit. The grimacing sun and moon sit in the sky while the animals of the Garden crowd around Adam and Eve, each of their faces seeming to urge them to stop what they are doing. Meanwhile, above them a cadre of angels fight and wrestle; below in the Garden sits a dripping, miserable-looking hell, featuring Lucifer with a pained expression on his face. Everything in the drawing around Adam and Eve is pulsing and booming in chaos and protest while they blindly proceed to their fate. Twisting ribbons with lines from the poem flank the fastidious illustration.

Lavish touches and lost pieces

There’s a quote in The Picture of Dorian Gray wherein Lord Henry describes women as “a decorative sex”. The female characters within Dorian Gray do play up to that sad standard–Lady Henry almost exclusively speaks of her husband’s opinions and parties and simultaneously fears admitting she has a passion for art and music, while Sibyl Vane is a living Shakespearean heroine, naive and dramatic and oozing in girlish fervor. Rodrigo Borges’ “Milady,” a powerful graphic drawing, uses graphite and gold leaf to bring a regal, beautiful woman to life. She exudes power and sexuality and, while most certainly decorative, she is enticing and fearful. “Milady” is exuberant and opulent and the climax of hedonism in which Dorian Gray wishes to live his life. She is the antithesis of the women in the novel, and we can even venture to dream that she is the female form of Dorian–a sinful symbol of excess and chaos without any regard for what is to come.

Other standouts from Summer Reading List included Kisung Koh’s subtle painting, “Follow Napoleon”; a cyborg-esque digital painting by David Seidman portraying “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”; and sweet, cheerful acrylic paintings by 64 Colors (“To Grow Alone”) and Joe Hengst (“Uriel (the third planet from the Star Malek in the Spiral Nebula Messier 101)”). With exception of the previously mentioned works by Kraiza, Borges, and Koh, the remaining black-and-white works did not pack as much punch as the works featuring color–and while quiet and subtle was never a problem, a few pieces seemed to get lost. From macabre to nostalgic undertones and throughout the ranges of black and white pencil to vibrant, otherworldly color palettes, one thing was for sure–the works of Summer Reading List pulse with color, vibrate with energy, and may just take you for a trip down memory lane to summers past.

Summer Reading List is on view June 19- August 2, 2015 at Arch Enemy Arts.

Unfold All Over at Space 1026 — new works by Lynnea Holland-Weiss

By lauren findlay

February 20, 2015

[Lauren allows the mood of Lynnea Holland-Weiss’ work to sweep over her, imagining the stories inside the artists’ paintings. — the artblog editors]

There are many formal ways to introduce artwork in a critique, but I’m going to err on the side of casual and say up-front that I am absolutely mesmerized by Lynnea Holland-Weiss’ paintings. Holland-Weiss argues in the show’s press release that she is “setting a mood [rather] than creating a narrative.” But, I beg to differ: Doesn’t a mood create narrative? It does indeed–a joyous undertone breathing through a painting makes a viewer question the cause of happiness. Anger raging through brushstrokes causes the viewer to seek a story behind the anger. Every painting tells a story; whether it is a literal narrative or, in Holland-Weiss’ case, a mood, the human mind, which is always looking for a story, will find one.

Saturated, enigmatic scenes

All of a Sudden, The Weight” is one of the smaller paintings in the show. Measuring 16” x 16”, it’s a panel built up with layers of paint and (what appears to be) pastel. Four androgynous figures sit in a dark room, reminiscent of Picasso’s groups of people wallowing in bars or Nicole Eisenman’s Old Master updates of Picasso’s bar scenes, shown recently at ICA.

Dark teal and cool, deep fleshy tones are offset by a brilliant yellow light bulb emitting a light billowing out like cigarette smoke. The blue-striped figure on the right has a drunken expression on his/her light blue face; two figures behind in the distance look on disapprovingly, one of the characters almost holding the other back. A crude, quick painting of the back of head and shoulders sits before the figure.

The feel of the piece is a dilapidated bar, long past its prime, filled with the last of its skeezy, drunken occupants. The blue figure and the kneeling figure seem to be engaged in some kind of sexual exchange–is this the lover of one of the angry figures caught in an act of betrayal? Is the figure drunk and looking for her phone on the floor while friends in the back angrily cry for her to hurry up because their Uber has arrived?

Farther over is “I Don’t Know,” a commanding portrait of a man looking like, well, I truly don’t know. He’s skeptical, and judging from the psychedelic palette, there’s a good chance he’s entering into some drug-induced rabbit hole. The vibrant painting combines different textures, from thin, built-up washes of color to thick, straight-from-the-tube lines demarcating the nose–a technique used frequently in this body of work.

The contrast is high; the darks are true blacks and the lightest colors are super-saturated yellows, cotton-candy pinks, and icy blues for the whites of the eyes, which provides the greatest contrast of all. A resemblance to Lucian Freud’s painting beams through this painting–the angular shapes in the face, the choice of expression–but it’s softened in areas, animated and alive, while Freud maintained a serious, stoic mood.

Mysterious faces and handmade books

A small group of people caught in discussion is captured in “Circling Debate”. Due to choice in color, we can assume that those portrayed in blue are arguing with the red figures, while the other characters displayed in flesh tones are just neutral in the discussion. There’s a contrast between solid planes of color and fully painted and finished areas of the painting. The thickly painted line that made an appearance in “I Don’t Know”  reappears as a primitive rendering on a red man’s face, while diagonally beneath him sits a blue woman with a bright blue, fully rendered face, her blue counterpart’s hand wrapping around her. Three lightbulbs gleam from the ceiling; a giant dartboard of sorts sits in the background. Are these the blue and red teams in a life-changing game of darts? Will the red and blue characters swap their lovers if the dart hits the bull’s-eye just so?

 

The amount of work in the show is impressive. Holland-Weiss shows 16 paintings and an enormous wall of 35 colored pencil portraits and 20 copies of her artist book–which are all handmade and really quite precious to hold. The clear love that went into each piece is not only overwhelming, but inspirational. In an era of largely digitally-based work, it’s refreshing to see an artist’s hand–and mood–breathing free and true.

Unfold All Over is on display at Space 1026 from Feb. 6 – March 28, 2015. (Note: This show has been extended for a month past its original end date of Feb. 28, 2015.) For hours, appointments, and inquiries, contact the gallery at gallery@space1026.com.

Animal Imagery at Snyderman-Works Galleries

By lauren findlay

December 28, 2014   ·   0 Comments

[Lauren enjoys a loosely themed show that plays with the bonds between human and pet, predator and prey, and animal instinct and training. — the artblog editors]

Our relationship with animals is a little strange–we keep some of them in our houses and love them as children, and then we eat others. We go to great lengths to preserve the lives of some, and then we do whatever it takes to get rid of their alternatives. Animal Imagery at Snyderman-Works features five artists and their individual interpretations of their relationships with the animal kingdom.

There is a recurring, heavy use of prehistoric African influence throughout each of the works. The animal themes range from the staples of fairytales and magical powers to Jungian analysis of animal symbolism, and the treatments range from whimsical to worshipful.

Recasting the human-animal relationship

Included in the show are porcelain artist Bernadette Curran, potter Ron Meyers, ceramicist Gretchen Ewert, and fiber artists Renee Harris and Susan Aaron-Taylor. Curran contributes an array of delicate and whimsical fairytales formed from an equally delicate and whimsical material: porcelain. “Dating Rats Platter” (that title is perfect, by the way) is one of her standout pieces–two (very cute, I have to add) rats appear to be strolling down some sort of painted porcelain promenade and (hopefully not) out of the platter. The rats are painted in a style vaguely reminiscent of Chagall’s animal illustrations. The rats also present a sort of narrative, something straight out of Aesops Fables or a child’s storybook. It’s a comical thought, though: people go to great lengths to keep rats as far away from their food as possible, and Curran brings the rat right to the plate–Curran’s rendition of “Ratatouille,” perhaps?

For the more grown-up taste is Gretchen Ewert, whose sophisticated urns look as if they were stolen straight from a pharaoh’s palace. Ewert’s one-of-a-kind works are influenced by primitive religious artifacts. “Waterbird Extravaganza” is a precious bowl suspended by three cranes (and a little bird friend on the back of one of the cranes) drinking from its gilded interior. The exterior of the piece is painted in matte hues, the wings of the cranes decorated in a simple line motif, and the exterior of the bowl painted similarly to the outside of an abalone shell. The inside of the bowl is coated with 22-karat gold for an effect nothing short of stunning. The birds, and the bowl, feel precious and ephemeral.


A light take on a heavy jug

Ron Meyer’s “Bottle with Multiple Images” is a piece that looks as if it were taken out of a Paleolithic cave. The 22” tall earthenware creation has a wide, circular body and tapers into a skinny spout at the top. It’s festooned with mildly menacing animal faces–the angry mugs on a bear, owl, frog, wildcat, and rabbit (they can be frightening) peek out from one another on the front of the bottle in natural hues of burnt sienna, burnt umber, and black, painted in a sketchy, rough translation. The bottle almost appears to be a cave itself; all of the creatures are peeking out from the depths and it makes the viewer wonder–are we afraid of the creatures in the cave, or are they more afraid of us?

Also included in the show are delicate and minimalist paperworks by Renee Harris and the impressive taxidermy-esque fiber works of Susan Aaron-Taylor. All in all, Snyderman-Works Galleries presents a refreshing take on a theme that verges on “been there, done that”. The carefully curated works by the artists curated by the gallery into the exhibit portray an elegant, complex picture of human’s relationship to animal and provides an opportunity to have the animal in our home without pet insurance.

Animal Imagery is on display at Snyderman-Works Galleries,303 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19106, from Dec. 5, 2014 – Jan. 31, 2015.

Dark vanities — Cheryl Harper at James Oliver Gallery

By lauren findlay

December 3, 2014   

[Lauren reviews Cheryl Harper’s latest show, which includes references to politics, Dutch still lives, and the veritable garbage we sometimes eat. — the artblog editors]

I was going to begin this by writing, “a safe word for Cheryl Harper’s work would be…” before I came to the conclusion that Harper’s work is anything but safe. Harper combines clever political innuendos and even cleverer comments on the futile state of our society and today’s generation. All of this cynicism and witty banter is rolled up into sculptures paying homage to the classically dark Dutch still lives of the 16th and 17th centuries (vanitas, for all of the art history nerds out there) and eerie ceramic sculptures of America’s political monarchy, from Condoleezza Rice to Bill Clinton. James Oliver Gallery lends its white atmosphere to showcase Harper’s somewhat twisted, completely sarcastic world.

Tongue-in-cheek vanitas

 

In the center of Oliver’s gallery, perched feline-like atop a pedestal, rests “Condoleezza Sphinx,” a hybrid of politico Condoleezza Rice and the traditional Egyptian sphinx. Other animal hybrids by Harper which surround this piece are loud, almost garishly colored, but “Condoleezza” rests in a panther-like state, portrayed elegantly, composed, and with a quiet power. The stoneware sculpture wears an American-flag-emblazoned pharaoh’s headdress, pearls, and a white suit, with small leopard-print pumps resting at her side. Her hands outstretched like lion paws, Condoleezza also wears a dignified and distant look carved and painted into her face. The Egyptians believed that the sphinx symbolized the dominance of a lion and the intelligence of a king, and Arab nations saw the sphinx as the “Father of Terror”. Perhaps given her associations with the Middle East, “Mother of Terror” would be a more appropriate title for Rice.

 

“Oh Thank Heaven” is a vanitas sculpture displaying Harper’s skills as a multimedia artist. A loose definition of vanitas is a symbolic still life painted to point out how meaningless and short our time on Earth is. The classic vanitas painting usually uses flowers, fruits, skulls–objects of impermanence.

Harper playfully (she is darkly playful, for sure) selects objects that can be found at a convenience store closest to you–a Big Gulp (2x, because, you know, more bang for your buck), a 25-hour energy drink (because 24 just isn’t enough), a Red Bull (to chase that 25-hour energy with), and the ever-notorious Marlboro pack–and portrays them with stoneware, wood, relief prints, painting, and appliqués. The quick fixes sit on a fabric-topped end table, creating some kind of shrine to modern-day mediocre food, drink, and vice.

Worshipping the mundane

Continuing the vanitas vibes is “Tea Time,” a sister piece to “Oh Thank Heaven”. “Tea Time” is an ode to the classic idea of ladies taking tea: a three-tiered cake platter, daintily painted china, and a tablecloth are the backdrop for a tower of store-bought, packaged lunch meats and cheese and crackers; a teacup filled with “Capricious Sun” (we see what you did there, Harper), and a few “Scrunch” bars.

Displayed above the shrine-like homage are cardboard cartons showing the different ingredients of the table setting, a framed note, and a miniature of the sculpture nailed to the wall. Just like “Oh Thank Heaven,” “Tea Time” is a multimedia collage sculpture incorporating stoneware, relief prints, painting, and woodworking; it also reminds us of the literal garbage we put in our bodies, and how, just as this garbage never seems to rot in the store, it sits within our bodies, decomposing at a painfully slow pace.

Harper does not lend much to the viewer who is searching for sunshine and rainbows in artwork. Her work appeals to a more cynical audience–a group of people who enjoy looking beyond the surface of otherwise playful-looking sculptures and seeing the underlying meaning behind the facade. For those who wish to make the climb to James Oliver’s 4th-floor gallery, what you will find will be a reminder that our time here is short and uncertain (kind of like government, huh?), but we might as well enjoy ourselves and have a Capricious Sun and a Scrunch bar or two to make the climb a little more bearable.

Convenient Vanities and Political Fancies is on view at James Oliver Gallery (723 Chestnut St., 4th floor, Philadelphia, PA) through Jan. 15, 2015.

Flux at the Wexler Gallery: Four Artists Redefining Glass

Lauren Findlay

November 29, 2014

in Art & Architecture

Glass is undeniably ephemeral. It is a hard, brittle substance made by alchemy of flame and particles of earth; the correct formulation of this material can either shatter in an instant or hold a permanent placeholder in time. The art of glassmaking is a tradition with deep roots that has grown and sinewed into contemporary artwork. The four artists exhibiting their translations in Wexler Gallery’s most recent show have surpassed our modern-day interpretation of glasswork, creating vessels and sculptures that will further glass’s tradition, sharpen it, and continue to transcend that test of time.


Daniel Cutrone, 3 views of Mount Everest, detail. (Both photos from danielcutrone.com)

Flux gets its name from from Fluxus, a ‘60s neo-Dada movementThe show combines the visions of four contemporary glass artists investigating the “resonating voice of glass”: the Philadelphia-based, technology-wielding Daniel Cutrone; mixed-media mastermind Aimee McNeel; the dramatic and conceptual Charlotte Potter; and Wes Valdez, an artist who translates visions of memento mon into the prisms of his work.

I was completely enraptured by Daniel Cutrone’s work. Cutrone marries methods of current-day technology and the artist’s touch in his futuristic glassworks, making the viewer wonder, how did he do that? The execution in Cutrone’s work is nothing short of masterful and clearly comes with a sort of daily dedication and a completely obsessive strive toward perfection. Perfection in glasswork, as artists and viewers alike know, is an extremely difficult (borderline impossible) task, but Cutrone’s wowrk approaches it.

Godlike perspective

From his series Objects of Desire emerges 3 views of Mount Everest, three balloonlike urns painted with a metallic, mirrorlike paint asymmetrically covering the top third of each vessel. At the bottom of each sits a different face of the same mountain: as we come in to view the different facades, we catch a reflection of ourselves in the mirrored exterior. The exterior, reminiscent of our very atmosphere, houses these tiny mountains and the reflective surface makes us seem almost godlike, flipping the idea that we are small next to mountains. The idea that we could be godlike and shatter the greatest mountain in the world makes us feel almighty and even powerful.

Mount Everest Inverted displays Cutrone’s technologically rendered mountain range (created through a time-consuming process of milling and negative/positive casting) fused with a sleek, hand blown zeppelinesque cask. The mountain range is suspended from the top of the piece, hanging over a small pool of water collected at the bottom of the urn. Viewing this piece from the top, the different grooves within the layers of glass come together, two dimensionally, to look like a fingerprint or a mapped-out terrain with all of the small lines tracing out lands and rivers. Similarly to 3 views, the viewer experiences a sensation of a godlike voyeurism. There’s a feeling of arctic chill and cool tones within this piece, almost as if it were naturally formed from ice, cast straight from a stream in the Himalayas.

Dream space

A similar feeling is evoked by 3 views in Mount Everest in Black, a piece, as Cutrone puts it, “resonates in dream space.” And that cannot be further from the truth – Everest in Black is a lucid landscape radiating some sort of Middle-Earthen or intergalactic, inter-planetarium dream world. Further into 3 views’ godlike moments, Everestalso creates a landscape of heaven and hell – the pristine milled Everest inverted at the top of the orb dangles above a deep, viscous pool of black, threatening to drop into an abyss at any given moment, a complete reflection on the world itself.

Wexler has housed some of Philadelphia’s most innovative and groundbreaking fine art and design work, which can often be starkly differentiated. Flux, and Cutrone’s work in particular, presents artists who transcend the process and definition of design, creating pieces that shatter the perception of what glasswork is, and can be. Glass is a material of the past that can be manipulated into forms of the future, and even further, can manipulate a viewer’s entire field of vision.

Winded by the Wind Challenge

By lauren findlay

October 24, 2014   ·   0 Comments

[Lauren reviews the first installment of this year’s Wind Challenge, lauding three artists’ approaches to their disparate subjects. — the artblog editors]

The three artists selected for this fall’s Fleisher Wind Challenge Exhibition Series include Peter Morgan, Justin Webb, and Jenny Drumgoole. I had the pleasure of viewing the first part of this challenge on a particularly brisk and gray Friday morning. Like the chilly Philadelphia weather outside, the ambiance inside the gallery from Morgan’s ceramics, Webb’s paintings, and Drumgoole’s video installation reflected a city charged with energy and filled with nature and inhabitants worthy of study.

Flock and awe

Peter Morgan was the first of the challenge winners to greet my eye in Fleisher. Morgan’s body of ceramic works focuses on the indigenous birds of Philadelphia and her surrounding areas. The creation of the birds stems from Morgan’s passion for them, and within this space, they rest like tiny colorful islands, or a variety of shimmering jewels. Each bird stands about two feet high in glowing, glazed, ceramic glory. And while there is a certain element of kitsch to these ceramic birds, their clearly scientific representation and sophisticated, accurate color choices, juxtaposed with an almost childlike execution, make for sculptures that are simple, charming, and easy (dare I say calming?) to look at.


In a more intimate area of Fleisher rest the quiet paintings of Justin Webb. Webb says that his intentions rely on a narrative of “incomplete, nonlinear, run-on sentences”. Admittedly, I was a bit thrown off by this original statement prior to having seen Webb’s work–but upon viewing the work, the artist’s statement made sense. The narratives portrayed through Webb’s work can undeniably be described as run-on narratives. A particular standout, “Untitled (Sleeping Bear, Mary, Table, Chairs, Pizza, Stick, Pot, Plant, Cactus, Cactus, Plant, Balloon, Balloon, Pendant Streamers),” is a really beautiful, almost precious painting portraying a dog in a traditional black-and-white-tiled kitchen. The dog sits in a room amid preparations for a party. The painting is vaguely reminiscent of traditional Dutch still lifes which always featured guest appearances by dogs. Webb’s dog stares at you, giving the feeling that he’s about to stand up and finish setting up this party himself.

Trash to treasure

Last (but hardly least) come the sunny and warmhearted workings in video and installation of Jenny Drumgoole (alias: Soxx). Drumgoole’s “Happy Trash Day” project began as a party to thank Philadelphia’s sanitation department (with pizza, cake, decorations, THE WORKS), and quickly took on a life of its own. Drumgoole now seeks to make “Trash Day” a regular event, as a way for the people of Philadelphia to realize how much our sanitation department really does do for us; how hard they work; and even to bring more rights to their positions.

Drumgoole points out in her colorful, upbeat, and playfully childlike video that sanitation workers have not had a raise, often work in harsh climates, and overall are an overlooked genre of city workers. In her video, she speaks in front of the city council, creates “trash couture,” and addresses the issue in a manner that is nothing short of joyful, informative, and affirmative all at the same time.

The Fleisher Wind Challenge heralds a certain amount of notoriety and respect in Philadelphia–after all, any exhibition that is consistently and annually juried for 38 years (!) can hardly be regarded as a slapdash showing of amateur artists. The Wind Challenge seeks to bring together some of the most innovative, current, and socially exceptional artists creating in Philadelphia (and her nether regions). Established in 1978, this challenge comes in three parts, beginning in September and running to May, showcasing three different artists at a time.

Each artist also has the opportunity to create an interactive family event. Drumgoole invited viewers to participate in another “Trash Day,” while Pete Morgan had a DIY bird-feeder workshop; Justin Webb will hold a film screening/pizza party extravaganza.

The Wind Challenge does an excellent job of highlighting different aspects of Philadelphia art culture–from Morgan’s environmentally aware birds and Webb’s quiet, observant narratives to Drumgoole’s fantastic stand on social issues in our city. The challenge left me feeling more aware of the city that surrounds me every day.

Wind Challenge No. I is on display from Sept. 26 – Nov. 8, 2014, at Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catherine St., Philadelphia, PA 19147.

#SelfieShow @ Yell Gallery

By lauren findlay

September 25, 2014  

[Selfies meet with a lot of criticism for their inherently narcissistic bent. Lauren reviews a show that embraces that narcissism, and unearths the creativity that can sometimes lie beneath a selfie’s shallow appearance. — the artblog editors]

The “selfie” goes back a lot further than we think (what do you think the Lascaux cave paintings were about, anyway?). In recent years, there has been a boom in the selfie–aided by smartphone cameras and Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. It is easier than ever to record what we are doing, where we’re doing it, and who we’re doing it with. The selfie provides in-depth documentation of our daily lives, inviting others to look in, and turning everyone into a voyeur (whether they know it or not).

Yell Gallery, however, has a unique opinion on the selfie–pinning it as “ephemeral” and “self-perceptive”. The gallery began its #SelfieShow project with an open call soliciting Philadelphians to share their best selfies. What came from this open call was an invitation to be shamelessly narcissistic, and the artists included in this venture are just that. The show includes works by 21 artists and showcases a variety of different interpretations on the subject–from embroidered faces to video diaries. Similar to the selfie itself, the exhibition is completely subjective to each artist.

Quilt and collage

“Untitled” by Ashley Ferrell is a quilted (yes, quilted) image of the artist. Her facial expression is not easily deciphered; her decision to integrate white squares into the image is reminiscent of old, pixelated cell-phone photos prior to the iPhone era. Edges and colors and eyebrows do not exactly match up, making the viewer question if this is just one image we are looking at, or a composite. Our only indicator is on the bottom right-hand corner of her quilt, where she has included a clear miniature of the image, like the key to a map. Ferrell’s enlarged image is like watching a picture download off AOL dial-up in the early 2000s–eagerly awaiting the entire picture and getting off on the tiny, beautiful pixels we are allotted in between.

Ben Panter includes a piece that is quintessentially his, presenting a photo collage entitled “Christina” to the selfie arena. “Christina” is not so much a beautiful image as it is a captivating one–the images composited together to make this piece have been done in a way that is mildly disorienting and even a little disturbing.

An image of a woman (we’re going to guess it’s Christina) with her mouth closed is layered over one with the same woman smiling. They are two lovely images on their own (I’m sure); however, when put together, the mouths look like they are bleeding, but the look in the eye is that of a smile. A raised brow hides in the layers. The greenery in the background gives the feeling of wilderness–is Christina a cannibal having lunch in the woods? Only Ben Panter knows.

Selfies worth seeing

Staring out from a Mediterranean-blue wall is Katrina Rakowski’s guilty-looking mugshot. “Show Me Your I.D.” resorts to traditional practices of oil painting–it is a surprisingly classic, yet refreshing image from the rest of the show. Rakowski’s piece is darkly comedic; the piece states clearly that the police mugshot is the ultimate selfie (if Sinatra and Khloe Kardashian could do it, so can we). Cynicism aside, the painting itself is really quite stunning–the choices made in color palette and composition, and the choice of environment in which the accused is portrayed, make the viewer think back to the paintings of the Impressionist era.

Other standouts in the exhibition are Justine Kelley’s juicy, bold pineapple screen prints; Arielle Massa’s hypnotic animated GIF; and Thomas Kelly’s “Goya Selfie”a photograph that is startlingly and undeniably similar to Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son”Yell has created a show that playfully and shamelessly fits into our selfie-obsessed society, even going as far as to inspire its viewers to send their own selfies to be posted in the gallery. Go check out the show, and before you go, be sure to take a selfie.
#SelfieShow is on display at Yell Gallery, 2111 East Susquehanna Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19123, from Sept. 5 – Oct. 5th, 2014.


RSVP 4 — a group show at LGTripp Gallery

By lauren findlay

August 20, 2014   ·   1 Comments

[Lauren reviews a group show of artists all taking different approaches to abstraction. — the artblog editors]

LGTripp’s pristine white gallery is filled to the brim this summer (yet again) with explosive splashes of color from the work of 13 abstract artists hailing from the Philadelphia area. The gallery’s summer invitational showcases 12 artists new to the gallery and one artist, Raphael Fenton- Spaid, who has shown in the space before.

Big impacts and subtle statements

Raphael Fenton-Spaid’s “Ecko,” a multimedia sculptural piece, is overwhelming. Standing in front of “Ecko” creates a feeling in the viewer of their own mild insignificance, like standing in front of the ocean or looking up at the sky for too long. The installation’s dimensions are 140” x 105” x 60”; walking before the piece and looking into its desolate, white “street scene” creates a feeling that if you step too far, you may fall in.

“Ecko” takes up the entire wall and parts of the ceiling, and projects out from the wall. It forces the viewer to stand back, look up, look down, and look around. The imagery within the piece is, for lack of better words, an acid trip: the support that projects from the wall is completely white and lined with various 3D oddities that suggest a Jersey Shore boardwalk amusement park and industrial construction work. This psychedelic landscape funnels into a heavily saturated sunset of blue, pink, and yellow. Pieces of the 3D assemblage are cut out, like puzzle pieces. This land could be a mangled slice of utopia–a happy and colorful, dilapidated farce on the outside with a bottomless, empty pit on the inside.

Across the way from Spaid’s expansive work rest two pieces by John Singletary that are quieter, cleaner, and more minimal than the rest of the show. Both pieces are archival pigment prints derived from 4″ x 5″ negatives, and both are black and white. “Synthesis #2” is a piece that makes the viewer wonder what exactly is being presented to them.

The work vaguely resembles the meditative brushstrokes of Japanese calligraphy masters; the quick, amorphous oval shape appears as an afterthought, while simultaneously resembling a beautiful dollop of clear shampoo in the palm of your hand. The super-saturated, pure black areas near the bottom provide an eerie contrast to the bleached and burned appearance of the lighter gradients toward the top. “Synthesis #2,” in all of its subtle beauty, does provide an air of violence which comes from the fast-paced movement of the mark–a quiet anger taken out in a single stroke. Singletary’s pieces are large, both standing at 54” x 40”, their marks the focal point of each piece.

Open to interpretation

Through the gallery’s small hallway hang the works of Andrew Tomasulo–his inkjet prints shimmering at the end of the passage like some sort of Holy Grail. “Not Untitled Number Eight” gives the impression of a painting made up of thick layers of paint, permeated by paint-knife marks and other aggressive strokes with paintbrushes; these bold features contrast with an overlay of splatters and delicate washes of paint. But, to our surprise, the piece is an inkjet print on cotton rag.

It’s easy to get lost in Tomasulo’s work, because we are constantly wondering: how? What exactly are we looking at? “Not Untitled Number Eight” looks like bacteria and amoebas floating in champagne under a microscope, dissolving into effervescence and leaving paths behind them, but I’m positive that’s not the first interpretation of the artist’s work; nor will it be the last.

Other pieces in the show include the fast-paced, colorful worlds of Albert Fung; the happiest, most patient, geometric encaustic paintings of Karen Freedman; and the pulsating, Kandinsky-esque paintings of Lynn B. Denton. Also included in the show are Kenneth Schiano, Tim Ruffin, William Diabello, William Phelps Montgomery, Laura Sallade, Stuart Lehrman, and Lori Evensen.

Walking through LGTripp is not only a visual delight, but a delight for the mind as well. Moving from piece to piece and experiencing each artist’s different approach to abstraction and their emotional representation of it–Singletary’s seemingly spontaneous marks in contrast to Freedman’s patient ones, Fenton-Spaid’s deserted utopia rivaling Denton’s pulsating opus–LGTripp’s exhibition reminds the viewer that abstraction has been, and will always be constantly changing.


RSVP 4 at LGTripp Gallery is on view through August 16, 2014. The gallery is located at 47 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia, PA 19106.

Young and Fun: Abstraction at Bridgette Mayer Gallery

By lauren findlay

July 18, 2014  

[Lauren reviews a playful group show bursting with color and abstraction. — the artblog editors]

Bridgette Mayer Gallery celebrated its 13th year this June with a colorful group show that included some of contemporary art’s biggest up-and-coming artists–Arden Bendler BrowningClara FialhoFederico Herrero,Nathan Pankratz, Rebecca RutsteinGraeme Todd, and Laura Watt. These names are locally renowned in Philadelphia, and in some cases, internationally. But that is to be expected from Mayer’s gallery–the group of artists she displays have, in many cases, been with the gallery since its opening in 2001. The artists who are lucky enough to be shown in this space have grown and morphed in their fame, like the gallery itself.

Lost in color

Clara Fialho cannot be missed in this show. Her immense painting, “Placebo to Believe in Forever,” can be seen glowing through Mayer’s windows from a block away. Spanning nearly 14 feet, the diptych is a faint, feminine reminder of recently passed Chinese artist Zao Wou Ki­–billowing clouds of cream and dreamy blues and pinks shimmer across what the viewer forgets is a canvas.


The dreamlike, sky-like, and romantic landscape becomes reminiscent of a late summer evening right after the sun has dipped beneath the horizon and the sky, and all of the clouds in it become a palette of pastels. It becomes so overwhelming that you, the viewer, may just run into the wall behind you while you’re trying to step back from it and take it all in.

Walking further back into the space, the viewer quickly becomes engulfed in Arden Bendler Browning’s painting, titled “Interim”. The wood-panel work creates a bold architectural landscape. Fast-paced jumbles of carefully matched, colored chaos permeate the focal point of both pieces of the diptych; resting areas of calm create a border around the pandemonium. It’s easy to get sucked into one of Browning’s paintings, and looking further into the work, it slowly but surely becomes evocative of Hockney’s pools–abstracted, of course.

Walking around the wall into the back of the gallery is bound to make anybody smile. Federico Herrero greets the viewer with a work that takes over the entire back wall of the space, creating a tunnel into what feels like a landscape straight out of a Super Mario Bros. video game. The painting holds every color in the rainbow, in hues and shades that don’t overwhelm, but delight the eyes. And speaking of color, the palette is one that would make Murakami ecstatic (or maybe even make him blush). The potent, punchy, and happy color choices could make any form of blue go away in the person looking.

Other notable pieces in the exhibition include Laura Watt’s hypnotic and sharp mandalas, Graeme Todd’s tiny and cartoonish landscapes, and Nathan Pankratz’s colorful and complicated mark-making. Rebecca Rutstein’s landscapes have lived happily on the walls of Bridgette Mayer for some time now, so it was only appropriate that her geometric and carefully crafted paintings made another appearance for this group show.

All in all, Mayer curates a show that couldn’t be perceived as anything less than happy and easy to look at.Young and Fun proved to be a perfect title: both for the artists on display and to remind us all that at 13 years old, Bridgette Mayer Gallery remains young and fun.

Young and Fun: Abstraction is on view at Bridgette Mayer through August 15, 2014.

Temporary Autonomous Aggro Zone at Marginal Utility

July 3, 2014   ·   

[Lauren explores an exhibition documenting the joyful anarchy of skate culture through photography and film. — the artblog editors]

Combine the pirate-utopian ideals of anarchist writer and poet Hakim Bey, the aesthetic of 1980s Transworld Skateboarding Magazine, and a pinch of collaboration, and you have the works of Phil JacksonRick Charnoski, and Coan Buddy Nichols. Like illustrations for Bey’s 1991 essay Temporary Autonomous Zone, the photos and film on view at Marginal Utility convey theuprising, self-governance, utopia and anarchy Bey advocates with the love and enthusiasm of an insider.


Motion captured

Marginal Utility created a labyrinth of sorts with freestanding walls to showcase Jackson’s framed, modest-scale color photographs, and First Friday viewers were pawns in the cleverly designed installationAn alcove-like space with a few chairs in the back of the gallery became the theatre for Charnoski and Nichols’ film Fruit of the Vine.

Jackson, who is a skateboarder and has been documenting the subculture for years, captures breathtaking photographs of that world, bringing it to life in full-blown, chromogenic color. Photos of skaters in action; dilapidated, graffiti-covered underground worlds, and tons of spray paint do, in fact, illustrate Hakim Bey’s autonomous utopia to a T. Jackson’s photographs are an intimate look into a life that many of us have only seen from the outside.

Photo #5, “Andrew Exiting,” displays a man, almost perfectly centered in the image, holding a skateboard and descending, like Alice, down a rabbit hole lined in graffiti to a light at the end of the tunnel–or rather just a well-lit, grassy area. The viewer is unable to see the figure’s face, but we can see his entire form, the slightly ducking gesture of his body, and a pair of high, white-and-red striped socks. The graffiti surrounding him covers neglected walls, the grassy haven in front of him permeated with fragments of broken concrete.

Further down the wall rests Photo #11, “Winter Overview,” a dark photograph of a dimly lit, abandoned, and dilapidated warehouse filled with ramps and with the grafitti tag SHORTYS emblazoned across the upper half of the high walls. People in the distance are milling about; sunlight bleeds in through the open space where walls are falling apart and reflects off the dark, damp concrete. This building, SHORTYS, is like Mecca for the people in there, and Jackson captures the rays of sunlight as an almost sacred glow.

Brotherhood in a secret world

Rick Charnoski and Coan Buddy Nichols filmed Fruit of the Vine in 2000 using Super 8 Film. The film is 56 minutes inside the world of skateboarding in swimming pools, and similar to Jackson’s photography, it gives viewers who are foreign to this world an exclusive look inside.

Charnoski and Nichols capture themselves and others skating abandoned pools, discussing how every pool is different, and how every time they skate, it’s a whole new adventure. Their band of skaters is a modern set of Lost Boys, with a strong sense of friendship and trust radiating from the screen.

This film and Jackson’s photographs show a Neverland that is a tale of brotherhood in a secret world.

Marginal Utility, by the way, lives up to its name.  The windowless, architecturally non-specific space is utilitarian. This works to the art’s advantage, however, because it leaves nothing to look at except the art.

Temporary Autonomous Aggro Zone is on view at Marginal Utility through July 27, 2014. It is located at 319 N. 11th St., 2nd floor.

I Am Here at James Oliver Gallery

June 11, 2014   ·   

[Lauren experiences the best of Philadelphia street art and street art-inspired work. — the artblog editors]

I Am Here brings the infamous and colorful streets of Philadelphia to the walls of James Oliver Gallery (JOG). Curated by Sarah McCorriston of Paradigm Gallery in collaboration with JOG, this sensational exhibition showcases the crème de la crème of Philadelphia’s street art scene: Isaiah Zagar, Darryl “Cornbread” McCray,Joe Boruchow, Jessie Hemmons (aka Ishknits), Kid Hazo, and the photography of Conrad Benner (alias:Streets Dept.).

Roughly 500 people turned out at the May 16 reception. The vibe radiating from Oliver’s gallery that Friday evening matched the work inside: electric, loud, and pulsing with life.

Different approaches collide, but don’t clash

Isaiah Zagar is quite the name in Philadelphia–walk down streets or alleys in Center City, Old City, South Philly or Bella Vista, and you’re bound to encounter one of Zagar’s gorgeous and fantastically executed ceramic-and-mirror mosaics.

Zagar is known for his Magic Gardens on South Street; an encounter with his work on an actual gallery wall is unusual, but as usual, breathtaking.”Girl in Bedroom,” an enormous 12-panel piece, combines mirror, marble, tile, and colored cement in colors that mimic the Philadelphia skyline when the sun sets: pale blues, warm pinks, violets, creams, and dark blues swirl together to create the image of a girl. She waves to the viewer, a goofy and content look on her face. Her nude body is contorted into an almost impossible position. “Girl in Bedroom also gives off the feeling of a girl underwater, perhaps in a bathtub. The mural surpasses two-dimensionality and becomes a three-dimensional experience to the viewer. The very surface of the mural is a sculpture itself.

Speaking of sculpture, Kid Hazo’s sculpture made it to the opening without the artist. Hazo–the only artist who did not make an appearance at the reception–prefers to remain unknown. Despite his personal anonymity, his work is anything but nondescript. Mocking our current obsession with electronics, the artist integrates the technology of yesteryear (a pay phone) with symbols of current social networking.

“Real Life #TBT” includes a genuine, archaic pay phone as the pedestal for a painted sign showing an iPhone, crossed out, with the popular hashtag #TBT (Throw Back Thursday). If the pay phone is a throwback, perhaps Hazo foresees the iPhone as the next #tbt.


Paper cutouts meet yarn bombs and more

Across the wall from Hazo’s pay phone hang Joe Boruchow’s dark, graphic, and haunting prints. Boruchow began as a stencil artist before evolving his practice to involve photocopies, cutouts, and clearly quite a bit of patience. As with Zagar’s citywide presence, Boruchow’s work pops up all over the city–on mailboxes, newsstands, boarded-up windows, and utility poles.

Both the artist’s cutout pieces and his prints are included in I Am Here. “Animal Locomotion” is both a wheat paste and a cutout–it is a graphic, black-and-white image of an androgynous figure bending over backward at an impossible angle and grabbing the front of his or her shins, the figure’s head nearly making its way between the thighs. The many mysteries of the figure and Boruchow’s craftsmanship keep the viewer intrigued.

 More key pieces in the show include an enormous Marlboro Red sign emblazoned with “CORNBREAD” (guess who did that one?), a giant stack of brightly colored, yarn-bombed wooden palettes by Ishknits, and several photographs of artists in the show, as well as incredible photographs of street art by Conrad Benner.

McCorriston and Oliver’s curatorial collaboration has created a dynamic and inspiring show that highlights often-overlooked work as fine art. #itsgreat #checkitout  

I Am Here is on view at James Oliver Gallery until August 2, 2014.

April shower(s) bring New Boon(e)’s Morale Booster

May 1, 2014   ·

[A cheerful group show, featuring playfully evocative artworks, helps Lauren beat back spring shower blues. — the artblog editors]

First Friday was cold, raining, and dismal. The atmosphere inside of New Boon(e) Gallery was a stark contrast to the weather outside. Morale Booster, New Boon(e)’s most recent member show, displayed artwork from 13 different artists. Themes varied from nudes and animals to landscapes and love notes.

Curators Zac Beaver and Lina Pearson created a show lacking a common theme, but the eclectic display of media made for an exciting and refreshing viewing experience. The New Boon(e) collective members’ works demand attention, and ask that the viewer make up their own story to accompany each work.  Beaver and Pearson have created a show that requires the viewer to come with an excited imagination and open mind.

Find a story that fits

 

Zac Beaver played the role of both curator and artist in Morale Booster. His three embroidered paintings are stacked salon-style at eye level. “Cheyney,” the top-left work, displays the bust of a turkey in deep browns and warm neutrals, surrounded by a worn wooden frame and trapped behind glass. To the right is “Ridley,” a fox with crazy eyes and bright-orange fur. Beneath “Ridley” and “Cheyney” sits “Mirmont”–a beautiful landscape (of sorts) that is an entanglement of sticks, tentacles, vines, leaves, and cigarettes. Taken together, the triad gives the viewer the impression of animals in the forest–is the fox chasing the turkey through the woods? IsCheyney the turkey meant to be Dick Cheney, and Ridley the fox is chasing him through a forest of his demise? Could Dick Cheney be trying to occupy Turkey, and a sly fox named Ridley is trying to stop him? Is the landscape our government or the world as we know it? Zac Beaver may be the only one who really knows, but he allows the viewer to create his or her own story from the work.

Similar to Beaver’s animalistic fairytale is the “Off-White Beast”–a collaborative sculpture by Josh Beaver, Maggie Stewart, and Zac Beaver. “Off-White Beast” is a sculpture of a “beast” (possibly a deranged white goat); the head is hung on the wall to mimic heads mounted on the wall of a hunting lodge, with a body of sorts installed beneath. The sculpture is a collected mass of cardboard, string, and paint. The beast’s head is mounted on a dark wooden oval, his dopey eyes bloodshot-red; small red bows festoon his mane. “Off-White Beast” gives the feeling of Disney animatronics gone wrong in the best way possible. The sculpture sits in the spotlight of New Boon(e) in homage to its participation in February’s performance piece, also titled “Off-White Beast” (see artblog’s coverage of that performance here).

Straying from the theme of beasts and forest wildlife, Anne Pagana’s tender installation, aptly titled “Devotion Piece,” displays two white plaster, floor-based sculptures just barely facing one another. One sculpture is close to the floor: a broken column of sorts, filled with a beautiful and wild growth, reminiscent of something one would find in an abandoned Victorian garden. Wildflowers and dark green moss quietly sprout from the sculpture; it’s a seemingly quiet and beautiful reminder of neglect and absence. Nearby stands the second piece of the installation: a taller Corinthian-style column angled at the top with a note lying atop it. The note, scribbled simply on a basic sheet of paper with a red kiss mark in the center of the page, says “Images We Kiss”. Pagana’s piece matches its title almost too perfectly; it fills the viewer with the sentimentality that comes from viewing work straight from another person’s heart.

Morale Booster also displayed works by Christina Lower, David Meyers, Kevin Dalton, Lindsey Maiorano, and Peter and Lina Pearson. With this show, New Boon(e) successfully offers something for every type of viewer.Morale Booster did for me exactly what the title suggested–I left New Boon(e) with a sunnier disposition that made the storm outside seem like a few raindrops. I look forward to my next visit to New Boon(e) and am eager to see what they come up with next.

 

Morale Booster is on view at New Boon(e) April 4- April 31, 2014.