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Art in City Hall continues to surprise and frustrate. The current show, “Art Full Text,” which runs to June 24, has some delights and some work made utterly inaccessible by the glass cases (image, Mark Stafford’s “Antithesis: Document,” which uses “The quick brown fox…” typing exercize as a pattern to create a network of words).


On the surprise side, the star of the show is an installation that makes the most of the clumsy vitrines–an installation by Kate Murken, “A Journey Upwards and Downwards” (top) that takes you on a trip of poetic words created by yarn or threads–an Ariadne’s maze about time and stories as walks across life. It talks in stops and starts, ending in tangles.

The show, with 35 Philadelphia artists, curated by artist Cavin Jones, who seems to get a little better with each show he offers, is of artwork that uses text. The media range from prints and artists books to soft sculpture, plaster and woven work.

The most expected sort of work are the art books, but alas, they are the most frustrating, their contents utterly inaccessible between the covers and behind the glass. Only Jenny Craig’s “Sewers” (right) with its accordioned pages stretched for viewing, survives the conditions and gives great pleasure with its story and its printed images of man-hole covers.

In the category of less-expected materials, Kathryn Pannepacker made a couple of doormats that offer the chance to step on some beloved nursery-rhyme figures. One of them, “Miss Mary Mack” (left), was the equivalent of “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” The beloved itsy bitsy spider also takes a beating.
engle, judy
Unlikely though it may seem, welcomats seem to be a theme here. Judy Engle’s “WelCOmat” print comes in ultraclose on the letters CO, a print about print , suggesting also weaving and fabric with the benday dot motif made large.
perkins, caitlin
Caitlin Perkins’ triptych of screen prints, “Before Assisting Others” (right) takes to its illogical conclusion the standard airplane stewardess advice to don your own emergency oxygen mask before you assist your child.

By collaging printed matter, Katy Jean May created her “Postmodern Madonna” (left), mom haloed by snatches of commands and suggestions for womanly success, and accusations of female inadequacy proffered by ladies magazines and teachers–“Honey, lighten up,” “Try not to smirk,” “Is this your husband?”

While a lot of the prints and paintings suffered enough from glare for me to be unable to say whether I liked them or not, painter Kate Davis Caldwell’s painting about electricity and lightbulbs doesn’t suffer from the lighting, appropriately enough. The label states the painting is “Man’s Silent Pursuit” but the words painted on are “Man’s Silent Servant,” so I’m a little unclear on the correct title. Images of circuits, advertising words, and domestic patterns suggest the dawn of the age of electricity and houses as dark zones waiting to be illuminated. The painting is a reminder of sign painting, the mother of all word art.

And more literally in the signage category is James Rosenthal’s mordant piece advertising “Painter’s Graveyard, Supply and Demand.” Prove him wrong. Buy art.
rosenthal, james
Others in the show included Vacuum online gallery men Samuel Yun and Matthew Sepielli, Patricia M. Smith, Elizabeth Hoak Doering, Claire Owen, Alison Willse, Karen Wainwright, Dennis Lo (whose wonderful cartoon work I first saw in “Comix,” another show in City Hall), Jim Brossy, L.Lindsay Mears, John Langdon, John F. Hollis, Judith Taylor, Virginia Maksymowicz, Susan Viguers, Ellie Brown, Carol Moore, Dian Riukas, Virginia Batson, Kent Latimer, Olivia Antsis, Tony Anthony, Blaise Tobia, Valerie Kremser, and Lori Spencer.

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