Monday, June 28, 2010
Yesterday I was treated to a preview of the new Vincent Michael Gallery at The Piazza at Schmidt’s, as it prepares to open to the public this Friday. I had been corresponding with Chris Clark, one of the gallery’s founders, about the bureaucratic troubles they had encountered in gaining permission to open for business. He had been searching for pop-up gallery options so as not to delay the launch of Vincent Michael Gallery any further—having already been barred from opening their June exhibition at the last minute—while they would wait for their permanent home to be cleared for use. Luckily, it did not come to desperate measures: the city released the facility from a seemingly arbitrary cease work order with just enough time for them to prep before July’s First Friday.
PaperMonster Ate That Little Boy is the inaugural show and when I arrived, the artist PaperMonster was putting some final touches on a large-scale stencil, graffiti and collage wall-installation. The work is impressive, a confident visual imprint for a new gallery that looks like it will succeed by differentiating itself from the cluster of other galleries in the immediate area. I spent some time speaking with Elizabeth Gault, a local independent curator who has been working with Vincent Michael Gallery. It is clear that these are not some crazy kids throwing whatever works up on a wall; real vision is guiding their choices.
Vincent Michael Gallery and PaperMonster Ate That Little Boy open on Friday, July 2 at 6 p.m.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
What can one say about Dilworth Plaza? That it is a hobo hangout? A gaping pit in front of City Hall? A place that is only really loved, or at least used, by people who are marginalized in our society? It is a bizarre and liminal space filled with neglected crannies, where one passes from an underground labyrinth of SEPTA tunnels, to the surface of the city. In the two and a half years that I worked in Center City I walked through and around City Hall often, so it was with great interest that I investigated Mustafa Abdulaziz’s Personal Renaissance, a project that aims to make something more out of the space. The title has resonance with the plaza, and the architectural revival project which has been proposed for it by the Center City District. But, does the placement of the photography do it proper service?
Personal Renaissance is a convergence of several programs, headed by the Mural Arts Program under the subsidiary banner of the Porch Light Initiative, which is a partnership between MAP and the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health. The portrait sitters are recovering addicts at the Act II Center of the JEVS Human Services facility in Kensington. Photographs are paired with poetry they have written as an exercise in personal growth as part of their recovery process. Abdulaziz has documented them as they participate in the creation of a new mural for MAP, also to be named Personal Renaissance. They are confident, affecting, and beautiful portraits (the triptych is particularly dynamic) which demand pause and the viewer’s undivided attention—attention which I believe will not be paid properly by most of those who pass through the plaza.
Chugging ahead without regard for surroundings is part of an everyday commute mindset. One could go so far as to say that it is a survival technique, an emotional shield, for getting through daily life. How often do we ignore or not even register what is directly in front of us? It’s always easiest to get past someone panhandling for money if you avoid eye-contact in the first place, avoiding that trigger of guilt. For this reason, I wonder whether the installation of Abdulaziz’s photographs is successful, though the intention is honorable. The portraits contain a natural luminosity, which is probably why I kept thinking of what they would look like mounted on lightboxes. Could they gain more attention if this was the case? But even then, just like backlit advertising in public transit corridors, we train ourselves to filter out extraneous messages that we see so repeatedly. I was the odd man out in looking at these photos; for everyone else, they seemed to be background noise.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
One of the many pleasures of having a week break from school is that I get to attend openings and events after work. This week it was the opening of the new gallery at city hall—rather unambiguously christened, The Art Gallery At City Hall. I was totally unaware that this was in the works, the only promotion of it that I saw posted the day prior to its opening. Apparently, others must have known, because there was a solid crowd assembled when I got there. The ribbon cutting ceremony and official opening were on hold until the mayor arrived, as we waited in a rather hot and steamy hallway. Isn’t that the traditional story of waiting for municipal services?
The gallery is in a prime spot just off of the east Market Street entrance of city hall, in a room that used to house the Mayor’s Action Center. Accessibility is the key, as well as confirmation of the arts as a priority for the Mayor; but good intentions alone will not be enough to divert the everyday pedestrian traffic that cuts through City Hall into the gallery. I did not notice any signage posted, except immediately outside of the gallery door. Also, the presence of a guard outside the glass doors leading into the corridor, though understandable in terms of security, was not the most welcoming sight. In order for the gallery to be true to the vision behind it, the office must find a way to draw in visitors regardless of the reason they are at City Hall. Paying your water bill? Marriage License? Legal trouble? Come to see the art.
Once the event began, Chief Cultural Officer Gary Steuer was the first to speak, making the requisite thank yous to those who helped to support the gallery. He highlighted the ways in which the space had been made as “green” as possible, from the choice of paint to the flooring. Next up was Jean Canfield of PNC Bank, whose Arts Alive program had provided significant funding.
Finally, Mayor Nutter took the podium. He praised the work of The Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy, referring to Philadelphia’s ever-increasing profile as a globally-known arts destination. Like any good politician, he would not let a good chance go to waste of reminding a captive audience how the lethargic state of the economy is not his fault; but he tempered these comments with an unequivocal affirmation that in the face of the city’s belt-tightening measures, the arts always have a seat at the table.
With that, the Mayor cut the ribbon to allow guests into the new gallery. The setup of the space has the individual offices each branching off directly from the central gallery. There is a true air of openness about the room, projecting the sense that Philadelphia’s cultural officers are accessible to those who visit the gallery, not hidden in some restricted upper-level floor.
The exhibition’s title, On The Rise (a bit of a half-groaner), feels like it has more to do with the opening of the gallery than any of the art in it, though focused on local emerging artists. I would suppose then, that both parties are on the rise, so to speak. Partnering organizations—The Center For Emerging Visual Artists, InLiquid, and Philadelphia Sculptors—provided artwork for this first show. It does not make sense to do an appraisal of any individual work, other than to say that Darla Jackson’s Surprise Party series was the most appropriately festive for a spanking new art gallery. (P.S. – Check the Inquirer’s endearingly goofy photo of Mayor Nutter pretending to blow out the candles on the cake that is part of Jackson’s work. Mr. Mayor, you know that you are not supposed to handle artwork without white gloves, right?) On The Rise remains open through August 6, go see it and the new Art Gallery At City Hall!