Fantasies on 2nd St.

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Building Democracy stick by stick at Temple

My sister Cate was in town this weekend and since she was up for some art-going we did the First Friday thing together. Our first stop was Temple Gallery, site of Buster Simpson‘s soon to be Windsor chair workshop. (See my previous post for a refresher.)

The gallery is in warehouse mode at the moment awaiting the arrival of the Seattle artist this week. Judging from the number of high stacks of wood pallets in the room I’d say Simpson’s got ambitions to make many, many fantasy chairs. The project, of course, is about building a seat for everyone at the democratic table — appropriate this election season. Also appropriate at a time when fewer folks than ever participate in our democracy by voting.

We had a peculiar though typical Philadelphia moment in the gallery revealing the city once again to be the true crossroads of the art world. I was introducing my sister to Sheryl Conkelton the new Temple Gallery Exhibitions Director who arrived here from Seattle recently when Cate said “Hi Sheryl” and Sheryl said “Hi Cate” and it turns out they knew each other from years ago in New York when Conkelton, a photo curator at MOMA* and Cate, who teaches photography at NYU, travelled in some of the same circles.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to seeing this workshop in action.

Building Fortress Philadelphia at 3rd Street

Across the street, 3rd Street Gallery was crowded and people slowed down and spent time with Architect and Tyler professor John James Pron’s socially-themed architectural drawings and maquette. It’s unusual to see folks so engaged with work that they stand there reading the handout, studying the drawings and seemingly rooted to the spot creating a traffic jam.

The project is called “Cita-Del of Brotherly Love.” And Pron’s multi-panel drawings collage news photos of soldiers, tanks and other war images onto drawn city scapes. Loaded with imagery and swirling, nervous pencil-mark build-ups, the drawings pack a kind of Breaking News wallop. (image right)

The thrust of the project, if you read the handout, is biting social satire. What Pron suggests is creation of a gated impenetrable fortress on the Delaware River (Cita-Del) to house everything precious to our democracy — the Liberty Bell, a bank or two, even Vice President Dick Cheney.

Everyone else would hang out down-river in what Pron calls a “Salon de Refuses.” (image left is the maquette)

With its questions about homeland security, freedom and gated communities in a democracy, this is a show you want to see — to contemplate what sounds like it might be only a slight exaggeration of what the future might bring.

The project reminded me of the wonderful Lebbeus Woods fantasy architecture exhibit at Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery some years back in which war and architecture merge into a didactic hybrid that has nothing to do with construction and everything to do with provocation.

Like Buster Simpson’s fantasy workshop across the street, Pron’s project is a metaphorical construct about what is right or wrong with our world.

Accompanying “Cita-Del” is a group of Pron’s large portrait drawings in charcoal of individuals who may or may be included in the walled fortress city. (image above)

Pron’s show is paired with oil and acrylic paintings by Carol Albrecht. Albrecht’s Grand Canyon Series (image is one from the series), which portrays one of our national treasures, is in nice dialog with Pron’s work. The paintings create a fantasy of a pristine wilderness that belongs to all but is unreachable for most.

 

[*ed note: earlier version of this post said Sheryl Conkelton was at the ICP. That was an error. She was at MOMA.]

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