With our reviews, we lead the discussion about what is valuable and why.
Our writing team covers exhibitions and performances in Philadelphia and elsewhere. We also cover books and movies. We look, take notes, ask questions and listen. We take pictures, make video and audio recordings. We think about what we see and have opinions. And we write our hearts out, every day.
Honing in on the small body of work left to us by Hieronymus Bosch (some 25 paintings in museums across the world), the film opens with a series of luscious details of paint. Although cracking with age, the surface of the paintings still bears witness to the agile brush and even more agile mind of the artist. Lovingly detailed brushwork brings an almost jewel-like precision to the perverse devils and monsters that populate Bosch’s paintings, their forms dissolving into abstractions of color, line, and shape through the magnifying lens of the camera. The film is a paean to close looking, the sort of slow and deep observation that so few people seem to engage in–after all, recent studies have suggested that the average museum visitor spends about 15–30 seconds looking at a work of art.Read More
Julie Dash’s The Great Migration observes the closing of one chapter of history for many African Americans–life in the unforgiving South–and the beginning of another–an arduous journey North towards an uncertain future. The opening scene of the film, a beach at first light shot in soft muted color, is a fitting metaphor for this transition. A solitary suitcase sits on the sand, a totem for countless histories both individual and communal. At this point of departure where land ends and sea begins, the memories of these emigrants bridge all physical borders, and as the sole remaining traveler, the suitcase is our window into a narrative whose roots run deep and whose branches continue to grow.Read More
When experiencing this incarnation of “Firebird,” I couldn’t help but be immersed in all that’s going on in the storytelling. At times for a split second, I stopped noticing that the reliably superb Philadelphia Orchestra (led by conductor-in-residence Cristian Macelaru) was playing right behind the elaborate action. The orchestra was the glue that held all of the pieces together, especially in moments when the choreography and multimedia aspects didn’t always paint the clearest picture for the audience to follow along. All of the competing art forms forced me to choose which aspect of the piece to focus on and then after a while, switch over to the next aspect that caught the eye or ear.Read More
This monograph is an invaluable record of Jonas’ work. Along with that on Schneemann, above, they offer two crucial pioneering artists’ solutions to a very current question: the ephemerality of performance art and the possibility of extending the life of the form without distorting the artist’s ideas.Read More
The integration of the visual and the visceral was particularly successful in “Bonzi,” whose titular character (dancer Edgar Anido) is a traveling salesman who leads a humdrum life trying to sell people things they neither want nor need. At the start of the performance, the bowler-hatted Bonzi knocks on a plain white door and sets in motion a series of surreal vignettes involving multiple doors, bowler hats, apples, and eggs–all motifs familiar from the paintings of Magritte. Dancers hiding behind movable doors on casters swirled around the stage, dazzling poor Bonzi as well as the audience. With constant costume changes and the clever use of props, the dancers playfully shift personas from alluring coquettes with quixotic tree-like headgear circling around Bonzi, to a self-contained corps of dancers that largely ignores him. By the end of the performance, Bonzi seems to enter the dancers’ madcap surreal world, leaving behind his heavy black briefcase with unrestrained glee.Read More
Rosa Leff’s papercuts push the boundaries of the two-dimensional world. Inspired by children’s books and political cartoons, her illustrations are painstakingly crafted shape-shifters that trick the eye, at times evoking a relief print with fine line work and deep contrast. It’s upon close inspection that the separation of the cut image from it’s backing creates a landscape of shadows that makes the work reside in neither the two nor three-dimensional realm.Read More
One of the most unconventional places to view art this summer is the cruiser Olympia, docked on the Delaware River. Commissioned in 1895 and now part of the Independence Seaport Museum, Olympia is the oldest steel warship still afloat in the world–and now it is playing host to sculptural installations that show up in the most unlikely spaces, from officers’ cabins to bathrooms to the galley kitchen.Read More
Gustavsen arrived in Philly with his trio–longtime drummer Jarle Vespestad and German-Afghan vocalist Simin Tander–to perform cuts off his new album entitled “What Was Said.” The musicians served up a diverse platter of musical and linguistic customs. Gustavsen’s understated piano playing sounded like lights flickering on and off (each key actually lit up each time it was touched!), drawing us in closer to observe what was taking place. Just as subtle was Vespestad, who drummed with beautiful restraint while exploring the percussion’s range.Read More
Despite all the technical know-how that goes into producing this work, there is something distinctly painterly about Portlock’s approach to image-making. and his futuristic landscapes owe a great deal to the golden age of American landscape painting in the nineteenth century. What separates Portlock’s work from the Hudson River School’s optimism is the artist’s pragmatic engagement with the difficult issues facing many American cities in the 21st century, such as the growing socioeconomic divide between rich and poor, the housing crisis, and environmental degradation. He presents a vision of Philadelphia that is terrifyingly realistic, for depending on where you live, litter-filled streets and boarded-up buildings are all too familiar. As a new resident, I still see the scars of poverty and gentrification that crisscross the city, but exposure and familiarity can blunt the impact of painful reality. Bringing together historical references, contemporary issues, and digital technology, he helps us to see our city with new eyes.Read More
“Maggie’s Plan” is a pleasant, intriguing film. Greta Gerwig stars as the Greta Gerwig we met in “Frances Ha.” But the other two actors, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore, play abstruse academics as successful writers. The film postulates that their characters are more intelligent than the Gerwig character. Moore with her Danish accent might be based on writer/director Rebecca Miller’s mother Inge Morath. Hawke might be said to resemble her father Arthur Miller. Who, ergo, is Greta Gerwig but–Marilyn Monroe? She’s no Greta Garbo. The film’s a screwball comedy that makes me speculate. And of course Miller is married to–Daniel Day-Lewis.Read More
With Eighth Blackbird closing out the LiveConnections season, we can now look to the 2016-17 season. One concert to watch for in the upcoming season is bassist John Patitucci and the Daedalus Quartet’s performance next April. In the meantime, Eighth Blackbird’s concert not only left the audience anticipating their next bold, musical statement, but also LiveConnections’ exciting and much-needed programming.Read More
“I did it because I could,” says Rocky 184, the one woman grafitti writer who gets a deep look in the movie. The self-proclaimed tomboy from Washington Heights is not alone in her unfocused motivation. “I was bored,” says Snake 1. It was not political, say a number of the others. The best, nuanced comment is from Cool Earl, who says “It was a sign of the times, a sign of our youth, our lack of funds and perhaps our lack of paternal guidance.”Read More
I had the wonderful experience of taking a dozen college classmates and their spouses through the exhibition recently. Only one person had any background in art history and none of them recognized the artist’s name. I explained that Irwin’s work takes time–literally, time for the eyes to adjust. They concentrated on the floating sphere bisected by a dark, horizontal line which disappears towards the circle’s margins–and the magic began. The painting creates a series of changing optical effects which it would be useless to try to explain, and because the effects depend upon presence and time, the artist refused to have his work photographed for many years–he has since relented. Anyone who knows Robert Irwin’s work only from reproductions has no idea of what the work is about.Read More