Lewis, Clark, Levy and Perelman

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I’ve complained about it before, the so-called gallery in the PMA’s high-volume utility corridor on the ground floor and I do mean the Julien Levy Gallery. But here’s some good news.

Soon, although not tomorrow, the gallery will be given its own dedicated space — in the new Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building the PMA is rehabbing across the Parkway at 25th St. (PMA’s Frank Luzzi tells me that’ll be in a year … or two.).

Meanwhile, there’s a very nice exhibit of photographs by Greg MacGregor in the Levy ramp that represents modern-day re-tracing of the steps of the explorers Lewis and Clark. (As everyone in Philadelphia probably knows– because there’s tons of related programming in town at the moment — it’s the 200th anniversary of the expedition which launched from here in 1804 on a mission to find a navigable water route to the West Coast.) (image is a man holding a sturgeon at Bonneville Dam, Oregon.)

The show, organized by Smith Kramer Fine Art Services and curated by PMA’s Photography Curator Kate Ware, is accompanied by a book of MacGregor’s photographer and excerpts from the L&C journals (housed by the way in the American Philosophical Society archives in Old City). The photographer, who traversed the trail twice and had 2,000 negatives to work from, focussed on the infrastructure that exists now in places once pristine and untouched. In works that praise the land and question the building, he has delivered a thoughtful essay about conquering and living with your actions. (image left is an example of a river seen by L&C now almost completely drowned in a sea of concrete, steel and brick.)

The people shots stand out for their empathy. The picture of the kids on the dirt road, Sioux Indians descended from the tribe of Sitting Bull, is loaded with thoughts about our country’s expansion westward and its impact on the Native Americans. (top image is Hunkpapa Sioux boys, Fort Yates, N.D.)

While I saw the large exhibit, which in addition to the photographs includes excerpts from the L&C journals and some maps tracing the explorers’ route, the hall was full of people looking at the works. I didn’t clock it but I’d guess the viewers were spending around 15 minutes on average absorbing the whole. This may be more time than an average viewer takes with a show at the museum and I have to think it was because the combination of the strong photographs and the subject — exploration, America, and history — made looking at the work less a cerebral exercise than a kind of beautiful History Channel outcropping, comfortable as flannel and slippers. (image is the Julien Levy Gallery ramp)

When I left the museum, I noticed the scale model of the Perelman Building sitting in a vitrine in the west entrance lobby. (shown) Whether it’s been there for years (they’ve been talking about this project since 2002) I couldn’t say. But this pic makes it look kind of grand. A nice place to house the Prints, Drawings and Photography Department, the Textile and Costume collection, the Libraries, Archives, Education Resource Center….and the Julien Levy gallery.

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