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Extra Extra performances and critical mass on Frankford Ave.


April 4, 2010   ·   15 Comments

Frankford Avenue is the place to be right now.

While New York is watching Marina Abramovic performance retreads at MoMA, exciting new performances stole the First Friday shows along Frankford Ave. and environs. Suddenly I felt that I was not only on the hippest street in town, but on the hippest street anywhere! And if you want to know where art is going at this moment in time, this is the answer.

Frankford Avenue is the place to be right now.

What has me so excited is performances at Extra Extra that have the hallmarks of what contemporary art is all about these days–failure of society to overcome its problems, failure of faith in some kind of transcendent perfectability–or so much faith that it can only be dashed as it confronts reality.

Extra Extra‘s show hits the mark with its show, called Failure to Show.

Jong Kyu re-enacting in real space the Neo role from Matrix (on the television) in Me You and Keanu

Tip top was a performance by Jong Kyu, described in the evening’s program as Jong Kyu becomes Keanu Reeves in Me You and Keanu. As a clip from the Matrix played on a television screen (the middle one of a stack of three, the other two filled with colored static/snow), Jong Kyu, dressed in black, shadowed in the gallery space Reeves’ actions playing Neo. The attempt to merge with Reeves is destined for failure–given the movie’s special effects and its use of stunt men and the nature of nature. But in truth, Jong plays his part with charm, with a Chaplin-esque sad-sack comic diffidence. He does this with great energy, great enthusiasm, and a mix of awkwardness and grace. In the end, he remains Jong, not Neo and not Reeves. But he earned a standing O for his efforts.

In this performance, Jong captures the failings of the entire culture that adulates and turns our pop heroes into gods whom we pathetically worship and try to emulate. But what human can fulfill those Hollywood-manufactured personas? I think of how sad MIchael Jackson was in his attempt to be some impossible ideal. What a grandiose failure to have failed to notice how perfect he was in the first place!

Using a similar strategy–imitating an iconic filmed performance–Leslie Rogers imitated Sofia Tsola‘s world famous trapeze routine, projected on the wall behind her. Tsola is a beauty in a bodystocking with strategically placed floral arabesques. She is also an accomplished trapeze artist with loads of glamour and seductive tease.

Rogers–unlike Jong, who presented himself as a passionate imitator–immediately tipped her hand by performing in a body suit altered to to transform her woman’s body into that of a naked middle-aged man. The flesh-toned suit is comic–pure Walter Mitty. The outfit includes padding for shoulder muscles and a paunch. It also includes tufts of hair–comic strands of yarn–in all the right places, including a horseshoe fringe around a bald head. The cherry sewn-on nipples, and the droopy penis and balls add a dramatic touch. Occasionally, the genitalia and the trapeze get in each other’s way and Rogers had to disentangle them.

Leslie Rogers takes a break from her attempt to reproduce, in the body of a naked middle-aged man, the famous trapeze routine of Sofia Tsola (projected on wall)

Rogers didn’t make too much of an attempt to get Tsola’s routine right. But she good-naturedly went through the motions. The tour de force is more the costume and the failed cross-dressing than the trapeze act. And both the performance and the costume acknowledge the impossibility of the tasks at hand. This performance, too, seemed on-target-contemporary, with its DIY crafty costume and its exuberant clunkiness. It’s a very different sort of act than Abramovic offers (she takes herself and her beauty so seriously and is seriously out of touch with the current zeitgiest) or than Chris Burden offered back in the hey-day of hippie-era performances, when shooting oneself was heroic as opposed to a sign of failure.

Other performances at Extra Extra also hit the mark by failing to hit the mark on purpose. Beth Heinly failed to evoke the music she was tapping out on a table. Behind her own personal version of a piano bar–a folding card table–she posted a sign offering to take requests. But I put in a request and she could not fill it. She said she didn’t even know the music she was playing let alone the Beatles song I suggested (I am the walrus). She said she didn’t know much music at all. I was not the only one she frustrated with what seemed like a sincere rejection. Ha! She’s not to be trusted. (Heinly, by the way, works for artblog, by way of full disclosure).

Brian Wallace, The Immenent Glitch: A Techgnostic Deconstruction of Failure, on Skype which was glitchy. Hence, the cell phone.

Brian Wallace’s The Immenent Glitch: A Techgnostic Deconstruction of Failure begins by failing to spell Immanent correctly. Wallace connected to the gallery from Chicago (that was the story anyway) via Skype–a connection that was a partial failure, with pixillated interruptions and pauses. At once point, he had to overcome Skype failure by using a cell phone to converse with his brother, Extra Extra dude Daniel Wallace, in the gallery. Projected on the wall from a laptop computer, Brian delivered a talk on the ontological failure of technology that was itself an ontological failure of technology.

Bob Myaing, imnotbobmyaing, offers safe internet chat room titillation to anyone who sat down to chat

Other pieces in the show were Derek Frech’s The Artist is Not Present; Bob Myaing’s imnotbobmyaing, Scott Ache’s Bound to the floor, and Brendan Sullivan’s See, Saw / or A Performance About Expectations and the Strangeness of Performing For Others (I missed this last one).

Whether it’s Myaing’s chat-room failure or performance failure, this show hit the mark as a reflection of a culture with lowered expectation, a culture that adulates our pop-culture heroes, turning them into gods whom we pathetically try to emulate. The show also hit the mark in reflectiing a culture that believes beyond all reason in technology which is only as good as people who can never make the grade as machines.

Deirde Burns' house recreated in the window in Vwvoffka is straight out of a Grimm's fairy tale, belonging to some magical place and time

The same themes were playing up and down Frankford Ave. At Vwvoffka, 2037 Frankford Ave., a new gallery from Masha Badinter, Benjamin Contois and Jenna Wilchinsky, the Dear Diary show calls up an elusive, idealized past.

Alex Gartelmann's family screen door recreated.

Alex Gartelmann's forlorn, romantic message

Alex Gartelmann, wooden sign and projection of the sign

Alex Gartelmann made a free-standing screen door that is a recreation of one his father built for the house where Alex grew up. His cutout sign reads Everything I see is beautiful, but it all breaks my heart. The message is projected on the wall in multiple images that suggest loss and immateriality.

The house sculpture in the window by Deirde Burns is out of a fairy tale. I don’t know who else was in the show, but as soon as I get the names I will add them. We are sorry that Gartelmann is leaving town, but congratulations on getting into the Chicago Art Institute. Other work in the show includes sketches from Jennifer Hallden-Abberton (love the way these were hung), plus work by Badinter and by Catherine Mulligan. Hope next outing they get it together to label the work!

Adam Smith, Crew Neck, V Neck, acrylic on found paper


A couple of doors down at Part Time Studios, Adam Smith’s cartoony paintings in his show Bleed Blue have Barry McGee sad-sack eyes and messages of inadequacy. The price was right on the works on paper!

Kevin Koniewicz is the artist who made this great little peepshow of a house in the Twin Peaks show. You open the door in front to get to the peephole (pictured below).

And up the street a few more blocks, at Piranha Betty’s Art Market, a venue that is more like an ongoing crafts market, nostalgia for a better time is expressed in a Twin Peaks art show. The cult classic TV show from David Lynch inspired some classic bits of art there, not to mention a pie-tasting contest and piles of doughnuts. I bumped into Joy Peyton, who suggested pie #6, peach, was the one to try. Someone else suggested #8, nuts and chocolate. But the line was too long.

Inside the peephole!

This inaccessible scene from David Lynch’s warped imagination is presented through a peephole structure that bears comparison to Gartelmann’s nostalgic home in the window at Vwvoffka. They’re both after remembrance of other times and places.

Shawn Dubin drew Agt. Cooper and he also is dressed as Cooper.

And here’s my nephew Shawn Dubin dressed as Cooper, holding a portrait he did of Kyle McLachlan’s Agt. Cooper in the show. Shawn is indeed his own work of art, if you ask me, and has been for a long time. He’s also a great illustrator and tattoo artist (at Moo Tattoo on South Street).

Shawn Dubin channeling Twin Peaks

Here’s a painting he did that’s also on display at Piranha Betty’s. Betty’s had no labels on the work, so I don’t know who did any of the things I saw, including some nice drawings of the characters from the show.

Failure and an idealized past or an idealized old TV show may be what the art is saying, but there’s something successful going on along Frankford Avenue.  Suddenly there’s critical mass, enough to bolster the original group of galleries that set up shop there. The whole enterprise, with this new, edgy group, feels a lot like the future to me.

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15 Responses to “Extra Extra performances and critical mass on Frankford Ave.”

  1. Diedra Krieger says:

    I was sorry to miss the Failure To Show. Didn’t realize it was going to have performance from the FB invite. Thank you for reporting on it. That said, I would strongly disagree with the comments about Abramovic. I think she is being extremely generous and respectful of her retrospective through her commitment of showing up to work everyday and sitting at the table and there’s a lot more there than a comment on beauty and art.

  2. Thought you guys might be interested in a cool exhibit being held at Drexel University called “The World is Yours/Ours” by artist O Zhang. The opening reception is this Wednesday from 5-7 in the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery in Nesbitt Hall at 33rd and Market. It is hosted by the Westphal College of Media Arts and Design. O Zhang’s recent photographic work makes use of what we might find familiar both in what seem like journalistic forms and those derived from advertising or other media-driven content.
    O Zhang employs such comfortable formats as a means of entry into less familiar and less inviting territory. Her photography explores notions of social-economic imbalance both in her home country, Beijing, and abroad and in doing so often illustrates how illusive these things can seem from different cultural vantages. The images often counter their meanings in their lush color and elegant compositions drawing the viewer in only to reveal the hidden underpinnings of their reality.

  3. Here’s hoping the energy keeps creeping up Frankford, all the way to Margaret and Orthodox, my neck of the woods.

  4. roberta says:

    Margaret and Orthodox???!!! I had to look that up. What a funny couple of street names. What’s the history, Tim, do you know?

  5. Hey Roberta, I’m calling it by the el station name…but I do know that Orthodox is named for Orthodox Quakers who had a meetinghouse on that street, in east Frankford. It’s a really interesting neighborhood!

  6. libby says:

    It’s up to all of us to keep that energy moving north. Plus I want to reiterate the need for an art shuttle. Yo, SEPTA, wake up!!!

  7. libby says:

    Hi, Dierdra, the comment was specifically about the recreations by others of work past. I’m afraid I was unclear. It wasn’t about the current work, although I’d like to hear more about the other things that are part of the content.

  8. Diedra Krieger says:

    Libby! Without writing a long long essay here… M.A. speaks about life and death using the live body in time and space, among other layers of meaning going on in the re-performances in the museum. Bodies in space. Our relationship to other bodies. Skeletons, bones, deterioration of flesh, movement, gesture, gaze… It’s incredible that performance and re-performance are in the museum. Imagine if the museum commissioned a 10 year license to the re-performance instead of a million dollar painting or sculpture.

  9. Kevin Koniewicz says:

    Twin Peaks Show / Pirahna Betty’s
    I was recently told by a shop mate that I was on your blog and sure enough I was. I’m the dude dressed like Dr. Jacoby so perhaps we rubbed elbows or shared a laugh that night. I couldn’t quite say. I was having too good a time.
    Wanted to let you know I’m the one who created the peephole piece titled, “This is the waiting room.” It would impress my Dad to see his son’s name in print.

    PS Go check out my friends roving home gallery space Homeskooled Gallery in West Philly. Their next show is here: or on facespace.

    Great Blog!
    Kevin Koniewicz

  10. Kevin Koniewicz says:

    Tell them Kevin K sent you.

  11. Hi! Thanks for the fabulous mention – it was a fantastic party! Sorry the tags for the art were not up when you came through, we had a glitch but they finally got printed out and added a bit late. If anyone has their eye on a particular piece they can contact me for artist info and/or to see if it is still available. They will be up all month Tuesday 11am – 7pm and our monthly closing party will be on April 30th for the Twin Peaks show in case you missed the opening or just had so much fun you want to do it again 😉 Add me to your Facebook to see more pics of the art and costumes and pie contest.
    Thank you for coming!!! xo

  12. libby says:

    Thanks for all that info, Kevin and Betty. Kevin, I’ll put your name in in a minute. And thanks for that info about Homeskooled!!! Another thing to look out for in Philly’s hopping art scene.

  13. […] you know I was famous? Me neither! Follow this link to Libby & Roberta’s artblog to read about my performance, Me & You, Keanu, performed […]

  14. Kevin Koniewicz says:

    Thanks Libby. Here is the link for Homeskooled Gallery on Facebook.


  15. […] this link to Libby & Roberta’s artblog to read about my performance, Me & You, Keanu, performed […]

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