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Berger’s travelling museum of wonders


The alternative gallery we love, Vox Populi, has another round of winners. Libby will tell you about most of it but here I will give you some pictures and talk a bit about Jonathan Berger‘s Fourth Room.

I met the Brooklyn artist when I was in the gallery. He was caucusing with photographer and LURE impresario Aaron Igler about a picture shoot Aaron was doing of Berger’s installation at Vox.

“Goner,” Berger’s installation, translates the narrow, windowless room into a mini-musuem with big ideas about life, war, and mania. The piece has the feel of a Civil War-era travelling carnival display complete with tiny stanchions that cordon off exhibits and make a pathway for gigantic viewers to walk. Berger has wallpapered the room from top to bottom with a thin layer of plywood sheeting, some of it found wood, some purchased. The artist told me that he uses found wood a lot — like for the walls, as well as for the ubiquitous stacked boxes, which evoke coffins and ancient packing crates for the toy-like roller coasters, swords and stanchions that make up the exhibit. The plywood walls are painted with a milk paint to give them the old, barn-like quality. By putting the dark wood on top and the lighter on the bottom it focuses the eye down and keep it riveted on the mini environments on the floor.


The artist, who made everything here, told me that for the roller coaster and for the two inch mini-swords, he uses poplar which he shaves down to toothpick size and carves. The starburst pattern of swords on the floor is sweetly decorative. But it also reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of piles of confiscated weapons turned in by a losing army after some cataclysmic battle.


Berger has a bunch of drawings framed in dark (scrap) wood. They’re hung at about knee level and on close inspection are all roughly the same image — line drawings, very child-like, of what look like tree trunks with their limbs cut off to stumpy protrusions (they look like tree dreadlocks or antlers). The drawings which are framed in scrap wood are on aged newsprint which the artist collects. Because of their lovely yellow color, which coordinates beautifully with the dark wood and the other colors in the room, the drawings are like windows letting in a kind of faux golden light.

The artist has a giveaway in conjunction with the exhibit. (My kind of guy!) He made a double-sided poster — on newsprint — that shows some of those stumpy trees, a starburst of swords, the stacks of boxes and the information about the show hand-written in old fashioned block print. And here’s some news to follow up on, all you people looking for the cheap printing option, Berger said he used the printing services of the Communist/Jewish press in Camden. He said they have cheap rates and only work for artists, nothing commercial.

I asked Berger about his Vox connection and the artist, a native New Yorker, told me he was at the Macdowell Colony a while back and met and became friends with Philadelphia performance artist Martha Macdonald who also was in residence at Macdowell. Berger, who said he is a performer as well as an artist (he performs with the Brooklyn troupe Circus Amok) came to Philadelphia to help Macdonald with one of her shows and heard about Vox at that time and applied to the gallery for his installation idea.

The enterprise, which had an obsessive, inventor-like, outsidery aspect to it — as well as some anti-war themes — reminded me of Thomas Hirschhorn‘s also manic, anti-war “Cavemanman” which Libby and I had seen at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in 2002.

(all images are of Berger’s “Goner”)