Sunday, October 31, 2010
One striking thing I have learned since I began graduate school last year is how many people are averse to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and other institutions of comparable size and scope. There are as many reasons as there are individuals, not limited to: the price of admission makes the museum inaccessible; the museum is neither representative of nor welcoming to people of color; the leadership of the museum does not prioritize serving the locals of its community, catering disproportionately to out-of-towners; or that the museum, its largest donors, and heaviest users are just plain elitist. Learning about these points of view so different from my own was an eye-opening experience. Even though I continue to be a lover of PMA and its programming, I have come to understand how the museum sits atop its hill, letting people come to it, rather than reaching out to the community to engage people where they are in an open and unimposing manner.
I state all of this to emphasize how important it is for the PMA to run programs like the recent reenactment of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Walking Sculpture (Scultura da Passeggio). We departed from the museum with an already sizable crowd, operating under the idea that, as we rolled the giant newspaper ball through the city, more folks would join our group. While there is no empirical way of measuring whether or not this actually happened, I do think that it worked. Based on my observation, the size of our group stayed consistent; though I know that some who started out from the museum did not complete the journey, I also witnessed new participants enter the fold along the way.
The planned itinerary took us down the Schuylkill River Trail, up to Chestnut Street, over to Rittenhouse Square, then down Locust Street and up South Broad Street to City Hall, before finally cutting through JFK Plaza to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with a small detour at the Rodin Museum, and ending back at PMA. Here lies a problem: the journey was more of a touristic flyby of fashionable and picturesque spots, not a truly inclusive route through residential areas. Did we reach anyone not already sympathetic to the museum and its modus operandi? Would it have been truer to the spirit of Pistoletto’s original work to hijack the ball and roll it through anywhere but Center City?
If it appears that I am being overly critical, I will conclude with this thought: what we all experienced that day was sheer, unadulterated fun. For the greater part of the trek, children were happily pushing the ball through the streets and you can hear their joyous laughter throughout the video. The artist himself was light and airy, dancing to music and playfully interacting with the children. Even the PMA senior staff members who made the trip seemed less than their usual austere selves. And when else would you see Gerry Lenfest out and about, rubbing shoulders with the man on the street?
The need for programs such as this one is great; institutions of gravitas and artists of renown have a mandate to provide them.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Life? It’s a little crazy right now. But I had to make time for First Friday, especially after missing out on September. I concentrated around Chinatown, stopping first at Jolie Laide Gallery, which I had wanted to visit since it opened over the summer. The location is slightly hidden in an isolated pocket of North Juniper Street, which is fenced in by the new convention center extension to the south and Vine Street to the North. Their current show features three artists: Mike Andrews, Easton Miller, and Andrew Holmquist. Taken as a whole, I was most interested in the varying textures that each of them created. Miller’s collages of repurposed items, such as woven strips of basketball, rabbit’s foot key chains, pieces of shag carpeting, and plaid paper, are like rebuses to unlock some dramatic narrative. The droopy clumps of yarn in Andrew’s tapestries hang as though they are melting off the weft, somehow calling to mind Mike Kelley’s stitched-together stuffed animals. Holmquist’s semi-transparent layers of paint make for an illusion of physical depth.
Marginal Utility had a show of Justin Matherly, featuring the mouthful of a title Would that You were the last of the filth which You had to remove / why does your flesh shit? The most striking work is his degenerated reimagining of the Vatican Museum’s Belvedere Torso, a Classical marble sculpture that served as a font of inspiration for numerous High Renaissance artists. The cement Matherly used for the piece looks like liquefied clay poured into bulging plastic trash bags, which were then left to harden in the sun. Whereas the Belvedere Torso is effortlessly vigorous and virile, Matherly offers a leaden, crippled, and impotent sub-human being. Is it a critique of Classicism’s legacy in figurative art? I do not know, and would perhaps rather it remain ambiguous. But I say all this as an admirer of the work. I did ask Matherly about his technique for making the prints that were also part of the show. He divides the image into sections that are inkjet printed on the glossy side of a transparency, which he then transfers while wet on to the paper surface. The result is a fuzzy and off-register composition that resembles the degradation of an image when it has been re-photographed multiple times.
At Grizzly Grizzly, Christopher Carroll’s The Pilot’s Dilemma pitted man against nature in several short videos. There is a brief loop played in forward and then reverse of a Canada Goose flopping back and forth over a decoy: is it balletic or bellicose? Boston’s Prudential Tower stands in the background, letting us know that we are not in the wild. In a video diptych, a man in waders ventures with trepidation into an arched tunnel, lighting a flare that briefly illuminates the dark interior, but that quickly burns out. Another pair of videos show deer being hit by bullets; the footage is grainy and slowed down, a Zapruder film of hunting, allowing the blood spray and shockwaves that ripple the animals’ flesh to be visible.
Vox Populi was showing four artists. The first you encounter is Kate Stewart’s Götterdämmerung, where plants and sod have been installed in the gallery. The cold, raking light sets an eerie tone. You feel like an unwelcome interloper in the room, as though this is a snapshot of a post-human dimension. Next, there is Kara Crombie’s animated film Mother’s Birthday, a silly, mixed-up anachronism of life on a southern plantation during the Civil War. Think of a nothing-sacred, animated sitcom variation on Gone With The Wind: the lady of the house takes a female slave as lesbian consort; tragicomic mishaps and gags ensue. Leah Bailis’ Magical Thinking is also cinematic in its vision, embellished with sparkling tesserae of a disco ball and a tapestry of sequins. In the back, there is Bill Thelen’s Connect Up To Me. Have you ever said to yourself, I would love to see that notorious paparazzi photo of Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, naked and tied to his steering wheel, but blown-up on a sandwich board, and contextualized by some other stuff? Well, here you go.
Upstairs at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, I found queasy intrigue in Matthew Sepielli’s paintings of built-up impasto embedded with found object. They are glazed to an almost sticky, sickeningly-sweet finish.
Space 1026’s exhibition featured photography shot on old-school cameras with 35mm film (imagine that!). Sandy Kim’s style is more spontaneous, like the slice of grungy life work by Larry Clark or Nan Goldin, where the artist’s real-life friends, acquaintances, hook-ups, drug-buddies, or whomever else, become the cast of characters. Logan White’s photographs are more elaborately staged, but still feel like they are coated in a layer of bohemian grime.
My night ended on a low-note with a visit to the Fabric Workshop and Museum for Joan Jonas’ Reading Dante III. When I walked into the gallery, I had an immediate sense of déjà vu. I was nagged for a while by the sense that I had seen this before; then I remembered William Kentridge’s 7 Fragments for Georges Melies at MoMA this spring.
Alright, they are not the same thing, but they feel remarkably similar. I went into this knowing nothing about Jonas. If sources are to be believed, she is an influential but somewhat unsung pioneer of video art. However, I saw nothing in content or presentation of Reading Dante III that felt fresh, original, or demanding of my attention. It is hard to believe that brain behind FWM, who last year, in a very forward-thinking mode decided to partially-fund and exhibit Ryan Trecartin’s most recent film trilogy, is the same person who decided it would be good to reach backward for Jonas. Hold up the twitchy, youthful energy of Trecartin’s films next to Jonas, and she seems not mature, but rather geriatric. Also, it appears that the whole show has been lifted and reinstalled wholesale from the 2009 Venice Biennale (even then subsequently shown in identical form at her gallery Yvon Lambert), an unpardonable act of laziness. Why does an organization with a stated mission of collaborating with artists on new work that pushes the boundaries of materials and media resort to being a showcase for New York gallery hand-me-downs? I know the answer, but will let you draw your own conclusions.