Art in America’s blind spot

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Here’s something that has puzzled me for years. When you turn to the back of your Art in America, rarely is there an item on Philadelphia art.

This October issue is an anomoly–two shows reviewed, one the Stephen Estock show at Schmidt-Dean, and one the Thomas Chimes show at Locks!

But an analysis of this year’s issues so far shows that Philadelphia fares poorly compared to Washington, Chicago and San Francisco. This year, Philadelphia has had a grand total of four reviews (the third, a Susan Fenton show, image shown and the fourth a Jane Irish show), whereas Washington got six, San Francisco got seven and Chicago got 10.

Furthermore, what gets reviewed in Philadelphia tends to be Pennsylvania Academy-driven figurative image-making, which, while certainly a Philadelphia strength, is not the only game in town.

What an outdated image AiA is sending to the world about the art scene–or lack thereof–in Philadelphia (shown, “My Stars” by Nadia Hironaka, two videos inset in the wall, reflected by kaleidoscopic mirrors, at the Fabric Workshop and Museum).

So I set my mind to thinking what would make a publication devote its precious space to anything.

For one thing, there’s news values–great art work, surprising art work. For some reason, AiA has forgotten about the surprising part if it reviews only what it expects beforehand of what Philadelphia has to offer.

Another news value that applies is proximity. But Philadelphia is pretty proximal, so proximal that New York is comparing Philadelphia to New York rather than to comparably sized cities. Well, that’s just not fair.

Then there are the money issues–circulation and advertising. AiA knows that we will still buy the publication because Philadelphians want to know what’s happening in New York, especially because New York is close enough to visit.

Reviews of Philadelphia shows is not the reason most Philadelphian buy AiA. But for other readers who want to know what’s happening around the country, AiA is cheating them of the lowdown on the Philadelphia art scene, which is pretty lively and thought-provoking, and is getting livelier every year. In fact, Philadelphia is an important American center for art.

And then there’s the issue of advertising revenues. Philadelphia galleries do not put up much in advertising dollars, another reason a publication might pass on reviewing Philadelphia shows, especially in the you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours art world. But ethics aside, in the real world, publications need money to publish.

Philadelphia galleries need to step up to the plate and advertise–in the local papers and in the national mags. Advertising bucks are strong motivation for a publication to give space to a subject.

I find it hard to believe that AiA is plotting to diminish Philadelphia’s place as an art center, to give New York’s art scene a boost. I’m not one for conspiracy theories, and this one seems especially silly because New York’s art scene is so vast that there’s not much competition.

From New York’s perspective, I’m afraid we look unfairly invisible, like that Saul Steinberg view of America from New York (shown). But Philadelphia has something special going on, and from here, it looks like AiA can use some 3-D glasses.

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