Inside and outside First Friday

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My predetermined list of must-see shows at this month’s First Friday got thrown out the window by two standouts that bookended my visit to Old City.

But first, here’s some oxymoronic news–July’s First Friday will be a first Wednesday to avoid competition with all the July 4 and National Constitution Center festivities. Write the date July 2 in your calendars, art lovers, and thank Heidi Nivling at Larry Becker Gallery for alerting us.

Now, back to the scene and the art. Walking by the Clay Studio and Nexus, I got drawn into a travelling show, “Chinese Ceramics Today,” hot from China’s Guangdong Art Museum (by way of Geneva and Denmark).

Multiples, humor, politics, revisionist thinking on what makes beauty all got thrown on and off the Chinese potters’ wheels. Who knew how in touch the Chinese are with Western art practice? I, for one, was shocked. But don’t expect to see Western work. The objects magically mix Chinese tradition into the clay. (Shown above, clockwise from top left Wong Fiona’s “Vest Beta,” “Vest Alpha,” “Vest Gamma” and “Temple”). Philadelphia is the show’s first U.S. venue (next stop St. Louis).

The evening was warm–perfect First Friday weather, and the Chinese theme continued out on the street, where artist Dao Lu displayed his paintings in front of the former National Hardware. Dao, whose English is shaky, but a great deal better than my Chinese, seemed to be telling me that it was his first time out there, but I can’t be sure.

Further up the street, in front of Christ Church, ex-art student Matt Moran, 25, was giving away his old work that he was tired of storing and moving from place to place.

And over on 3rd and Cherry, Morgan (that’s what he said he goes by) was trying to get patrons to sit for portraits for only $5 a pop. What a deal. The back of his pick-up truck displayed a swell portrait of Mayor John Street as a prize fighter.

“I’m a painter; I’m not really an artist,” said Morgan, who mentioned that in his print shop he has hung several of his Philadelphia-themed paintings, including “Ira Einhorn Going to Hell.” I’m in love.

Which brings me back to the other great show–“Folk Painting from India”–at Indigo Arts. The densely patterned paintings, ritual scrolls and story-telling scrolls mix beauty and authenticity and the prices made me reach for my wallet. Unlike the Chinese ceramics, this work has very little Western-art influence, unless you count the scroll that retells the story of the French Revolution. The aesthetic here is Indian all the way, however. Picture an exuberantly decorative guillotine with scrolled brass finials.

Earlier in the day I stopped at Moore College to see “5 into 1,” the second annual Philadelphia Sculptors student exhibition that draws from the five local art colleges–Moore, Tyler, Penn, the Academy and UArts. The standouts included, from UArts, Brian Nolen’s interactive “Big Boy” (shown here in its inflated form), and two from Tyler–Patrick McIntyre’s meditation on where the tap water comes from and where it goes, and from Julie Rill, who must have suffered through parochial school, “Jesus.” Her piece, a blackboard shaped to spell out Jesus, alas failed to make its point to whoever chalked “I love him” on the board.

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