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Summer of shovel love

highwirerothblatt Libby and I don’t often coordinate our trips out to see art, nor do we divvy up the territory in any carefully orchestrated way, deciding who writes about what.

Sometimes that results in the two of us running around unknowingly following each other’s footsteps in and out of galleries. We only find out about this when the gallerist mentions that the other was just in. This may seem inefficient or even silly but we just laugh and keep on working.

Last week I hit Highwire Gallery’s Shovel Show in Libby’s wake. (image is Highwire’s sign, embellished by Abe Rothblatt’s tape drawing)

Libby told you about the Shovel show in her great post and I’ll not be redundant here, only mention I loved the show, too.


It was great to see Brian Wagner’s collection of sticks in the light of day once more. Wagner, who collects used broom and mop and shovel handles then occasionally hauls them out and stacks them — freely without armature or fasteners — in big haystack-like arrangements that tower in the air and miraculously don’t fall down, is one of Philadelphia’s many undersung art heroes. See pictures of the Highwire install on Wagner’s page on Highwire’s website.


Wagner’s stack of 950 sticks — yellow as the summer sun — is culled from a greater assortment of some 5,000 the artist owns. I saw the 5,000-stick stack in a West Philadelphia trolley barn a few years back (1999 I think) and it was a wonder.

I wrote a story about Wagner, a Drexel prof, and his sticks for PW but unfortunately the paper’s online archives don’t go back that far so I can’t link it. Several videographers, including Highwire’s John Van Zandt, have videotaped Wagner’s sticks going up — usually a group activity requiring ladders and scaffolding. Van Zandt’s was playing on a video monitor in Highwire.

I have a copy of David Miller’s short video “5,000 Sticks,” which I played this morning for a stroll down memory lane. The image above is my photo of the last shot in Miller’s piece — it’s the completed stack in the West Philly shed. You can’t see it clearly but this thing had a tornado-like torque, it’s top seeming to spiral up and out for liftoff.


Meanwhile, Abe Rothblatt’s tape installation in long, bunker-like, fluorescent-lit hallway outside Highwire, which I guess is part of the Shovel show, is such a feel good piece it took me right back to my hippie summer of love days. (image left and right are details)

The free-form, multi-color tape drawing, grafitti-like but incredibly delicate of touch, is just enough anointment of the ugly space to make you forget the prison-like ambiance. I hope the gallery decides to keep the piece up for a while. It’s truly a civic improvement.


Speaking of prisons and civic improvements, Rothblatt famously installed a wonderful tape piece many years ago in the jury waiting room at Philadelphia City Hall. Read more about the artist at his page on Highwire’s website.

He was on a jury and had some down time, I guess.

I’m very happy that the artist is still in touch with his tape. (jury room image by joe mikuliak.)