The success trap

[Ed. note: Artist Ben Will wrote to us recently to comment on “The Lost Meeting” up at Abington. He gave it a kind of thumbs up/thumbs down rating — project with problems but it’s good to take risks. And ended with a comment about Philadelphia being a “somewhat critically lazy city” and one in need of riskier and larger projects. That piqued my interest, so I asked the artist to expand on his comment and here’s what he wrote. It’s food for thought.]

Post by Ben Will

Two of the galleries in Philadelphia that I respect the most seem trapped by their own success. Space 1026 and Vox Populi continue to develop a stable of artists that are producing work of high caliber. They both need to push their respective artists outside of the gentle confines of Philadelphia to larger, higher profile markets. However, these institutions have deficiencies that continue to plague their exhibition programs here.
will, ben

Vox and the curatorial hand
Vox Populi has cultivated an environment that, at first glance, reminds one of any commercial gallery in Chelsea or the East End. This is no small feat for a collective. To be able to maintain an atmosphere of professionalism continually for years is commendable. However, upon further investigation the lack of curatorial decisions especially during the member exhibitions is disheartening. As a viewer, I am continually confronted by three or four separate shows within one modest space. It seems that no thought went into why these artists should be showing together. The work ends up being devalued by conflicting ideologies around the next corner. While I am told that this space functions without a fulltime curatorial presence, democratic artist-run exhibitions rarely produce the kind of thought provoking shows that this city is sorely in need of. (image is a video piece by Kim Collmer at Vox’s “Point of View.” Here’s Libby’s post for more.)

While I am writing this I have just seen the “Point of View” exhibition at Vox. I found this exhibition much more intelligible than others I have seen. Visually, the work functioned beautifully together. The exhibition, as a whole, was consistent and interesting and without the philosophical juxtapositions and confrontations that mar some Vox exhibitions. However, the title and stated impetus for the exhibition leave much to be desired. I don’t think there is more of a trite phrase in art than point of view. I may be one of the few people that actually care about this sort of thing but throw me a bone. (image is installation shot from recent group exhibit “Voxennial” at Vox Populi. Floor piece by James Dillon and Nick Paparone)

I implore the artists of Vox to place more of an emphasis on curating exhibitions so that the organization you have created will become more of the heavyweight I expect it could be. Maybe it’s time to change that charter I’ve heard so much about.

Curating in the wild at Space 1026

Space 1026 has a slightly different problem. While riding high off of recent press coverage and out of town exhibitions, I think this collective is getting lazy. ‘1026ers’ is a mess of an exhibition. It is a jumbled non-installation of work that does not function together. I felt as though if I squinted, held up my hands to block out the extraneous noise of the separate pieces of art, I might have been able to see what the work actually could do. (image is installation shot of current members group show at Space 1026. See Libby’s postfor more.)

The exhibition as a whole looks like a store (place for shameless commerce) that in no way references Claes Oldenburg or Tracy Emin and Sarah Lucas, three artists who also addressed the idea of art in relation to consumerism, shopping, etc. and who did it much better in their projects.

It fails visually and demeans the work of all the artists. It also appears to lack any critical reasoning whatsoever. In fact, I can find no reason for this exhibition other than to fill space in an empty slot on an exhibition schedule.

I believe that a curatorial presence is sorely needed to focus the energy and intelligence of the work into a cohesive exhibition. Summer is a safe season to present exhibitions that are far more experimental. However, this collective seems more interested in patting itself on the back than challenging itself and its viewers. (image is previous installation at Space 1026 — which welcomes installation art. This one was by the collective Paper Rad.)

I hope that these institutions will continue to flourish. But, It is the responsibility of the members of these collectives to take stock of their respective institutions to ensure that stagnancy and complacency do not take hold.

–Ben Will is a Philadelphia artist and one of the co-curators of “Philadelphia Cheek” at Seraphin Gallery. Here’s Libby’s post on Cheek and mine.