Weekly Update – Spector’s Angels, Fall Round-up

This week’s Weekly includes my fall round-up of great upcoming shows. And on the art page, my review of Shelley Spector‘s Painted Bride exhibit, “I am on Your Shoulders.” Below is the Spector review and under that is the fall round-up.
Little Minyons

I recently picked Shelley Spector and one of her minyons up at the studio, and we drove over to the Painted Bride where the artist was installing her show “I Am on Your Shoulders.” It’s her first solo exhibit in three years and her first ever to involve motors, installation and music-though not her first to involve minyons, which appeared in a tinier version in her last solo exhibit held at the Museum of Jewish Art at Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

(image is the artist posing in front of “A Flower in the Clouds: Portrait of Becky.” See bigger.)

Spector, sculptor of finely crafted assemblages, most of them human figures, got in the car and put the wood and glass minyon, about the size of a kindergartner, in the back seat lying down. The minyon (a Hebrew word referring to the quorum of people needed to officially recite prayers) was one of 10 in the two-part exhibit, which includes “Life on Earth” in the downstairs gallery and “Above the Clouds” in the upstairs space. The exhibit is a celebration of departed loved ones that ranges from stately and solemn to giddy.

I asked the artist and gallerist why the emphasis on the dearly departed and death.

She said her life was touched by death early on. Her father Edward Spector died when she was 9. “When you have a death in the family when you’re little, that’s a long time to think about it,” she says. In the last three years the artist has been touched again by loss. “Becky [Westcott] died; my cousin died; my sister’s sister-in-law died; Hankus, my cat, died. The theme [of the exhibit] comes from thinking about death.”


But the exhibit’s focus isn’t really death. It’s a celebration of life, including the lives of the departed. And while there are aspects that are solemn, ritualistic and poignant, overall the show feels like a group hug by the artist of all souls both living and dead.

(image is “I am on your shoulders,” detail)

There are participatory elements that will surely be cathartic for many people. Viewers are invited to add the names and a memento of their loved ones to vessels provided. By the end, there’ll be an archive of the departed and a kind of new community of living souls united through the show.

If that all sounds like rather sober material for an art exhibit, it is. But that’s just half the story. The second act upstairs, “Above the Clouds,” is where it gets giddy.

“Above the Clouds” is where you get a change in the atmospheric conditions-from somber to jovial and from still to swirling. Climbing the stairs, you hear the toot and wail of klezmer music. Then you see them-tiny carved figures of departed souls, flying like supermen and women in three circles near the ceiling like some blessed three-ring circus in the sky. The music mix-six songs from the Klezmer Conservatory Band and other bands selected by the artist-swings with that lyrical Oriental loopiness characteristic of the genre. The whole thing is theatrical and magical, like Fellini’s parade at the end of 8 1/2 or like the second-line parade of a jazz funeral.

The walls are pale blue, and the whirling figures cast shadows that imply legions of angels. The figures, carved out of particle board and made to look like individuals with shoes and dresses, pants and tops-no angel’s wings-pass in mesmerizing rhythm. Little wooden clouds dot the floor like so much scenery. The whole thing, mechanized by heavy-duty disco ball motors, is childlike and completely lovable.

(image is “Above the Clouds” detail. See bigger)

The music’s snappy rhythm evokes the dance, something near to the artist’s heart. Spector’s mother was a dance teacher, and the artist has taken dance seriously all her life. “Klezmer has a happy/sad quality. Like this show, it’s a celebration, but sober. It’s like the way you have to be,” she says.

This is a breakthrough show for the artist. Not only did she produce an installation that’s participatory and that expresses both the happy and sad sides of her core being and philosophy of life and community, she made the work in a new (for her) way, using scrap wood (“junk wood,” she called it) instead of fine wood.


There’s plywood, masonite and particle board, scraps and leftovers from walls and cabinets torn down in a rehab project at her house. She has wood scraps from other people. In effect, it’s a community of wood scraps used to make new individuals and new community. The recycling of materials echoes the show’s theme of people standing on the shoulders of their forbearers to move forward and upward.

(image is the minyon all facing east)

Spector has a way of creating a community around her wherever she is. Here she’s forging a new group of viewers and friends who will see and participate in this celebration of life.

“Shelley Spector: I Am on Your Shoulders”
Through Oct. 22. Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St. 215.925.9914.

“RAW” Deal

Fishtown’s “Operation” is the beginning of a great fall art season.

Philadelphia is bursting with art this fall-high-energy exhibits and events from Center City to the suburbs. Right now the season’s don’t-miss show is in Fishtown: the 62-artist “Operation RAW.” Next month’s outstanding production is the Oct. 29 “Slide Show” by Zoe Strauss in South Philadelphia. And in November the community-minded project “TC Goes to School” at the Levy Gallery at Moore College pairs outsider-influenced TC Campuzano and at-risk students of Vare Elementary School with whom he’s been working.

(image is what looked like a tattoo being applied at the opening of Operation RAW. I’m not sure if it was a real tattoo or a marker drawing on the person’s back. See bigger.)

Here’s a peek at a few other things I’m excited about.

“Operation RAW”

Don’t miss this show. Most of the artists invited by Jane Irish to participate in the antiwar-themed show at the Ice Box Project Space on American Street worked over the summer to make something new. The passionate outpourings that resulted-each more sophisticated, poignant and barbed than the next-are unprecedented in recent Philadelphia art history. Surprising works by Nicholas Kripal and Richard Hricko lead the pack in an exhibit that has the power to leave you in tears. This is a benchmark show, and one that’ll be remembered for years.

“Zoe Strauss: Slide Show”


Pew fellow Zoe Strauss debuts her second “Slide Show” soiree on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at 1010 Front St. Like a magic-lantern revue of old, Strauss’ slides are photographic images from her Philadelphia Public Art Project set to music-a mix of rock, jazz and hip-hop from the artist’s iPod. The theatrical entertainment that results is a hybrid of public performance and art that’s monumental, community-spirited and fun. Free, but seating is limited. Reserve your place by emailing or call 267.250.4158.

(image is Strauss photo “30th + Wharton don’t like drug.”)

Brooklyn Comes to PAFA

Two Brooklyn-based artists raise questions about art at PAFA this fall: Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz in the Morris Gallery and Ellen Harvey in the Furness building’s upstairs rotunda. Muniz and Harvey are both image “translators” who work with extant images from art history and tweak them-in very different ways-to make points about the value and commodification of art, topics that should be on all art lovers’ front burners.

Muniz makes replicas of art using nonstandard materials like drizzled chocolate or confetti, creating sly subversions of serious art-history warhorses. The artist takes color photographs of them, and that’s his art: a picture twice removed from the source that’s sometimes better than the original.

Harvey’s “Mirror,” a PEI-funded project opening Oct. 15, will position large mirrors in the museum’s rotunda that reflect the building on itself. Harvey’s mirrors have been etched on the reverse with images that are architectural renderings of PAFA’s interior. The etching will create a ghost image on the mirror’s surface that will turn what’ seen into an X-ray image of the Victorian PAFA.

Fleisher Challenge

Challenge 1 and 2 exhibitions this fall have plucked students right out of the M.F.A. graduating classes in the city. That quick turnaround from student to Challenge grant winner is symptomatic of the increasingly high level of sophistication and professional preparedness among the young artists coming out of the city’s graduate programs.

(image is detail of a large collage work by Kip Deeds from his Challenge 1 exhibit. See bigger.)


Sarah Gamble (Challenge 1), a painter from Penn, and Penelope Rakov (Challenge 2), a ceramic artist from Tyler, are artists to watch. Kip Deeds and Mauro Zamora (in Challenge 1 and 2, respectively) are also artists on the way up included in what appears to be another strong Challenge year.

(image is detail of a wall of drawings by Sarah Gamble from her Challenge 1 exhibit)

In-Town Delights

Gallery Joe opens its fall season First Friday in October with something new, a group show called “Water Color” with 12 artists, some Joe regulars and other new names. Like other smart galleries here, Joe’s gallerist Becky Kerlin has been taking her show on the road, participating in international art fairs near and far. Joe got invited to participate in the prestigious “Aqua Art Miami” fair the first week in December that runs during the huge Art Basel Miami.

These big fairs are great networking opportunities. Not only do they benefit the gallery and its artists, they’re great for Philadelphia as well, making connections with collectors outside the city and planting the seeds for future visits here to look and buy. The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Board should help underwrite our galleries’ expenses to participate. It would benefit the city to do so.


My must-see list and yours too should include these great shows: Charles Burwell at Swarthmore; the Faux Show at Klein Art Gallery; Francis Gregory DiFronzo at Rosenfeld; Anne Seidman and Susan Hagen at Schmidt-Dean; Susan Fenton and Mary Murphy at Schmidt-Dean; and the Alumni of 1801 show.


(bottom two images are “Periscope” by Anne Seidman and “Lost Army,” detail by Susan Hagen, from their show at Schmidt-Dean Gallery. See the Hagen image bigger.)

“Operation RAW”
Through Sept. 25. Ice Box Project Space, Crane Art Center, 1400 N. American St. 215.923.0245.
Zoe Strauss: Slide Show
Sat., Oct. 29, 7pm. 1010 Front St. 267.250.4158.
TC Campuzano Goes to School
Nov. 11-Dec. 21. Levy Gallery, Moore College of Art & Design, 20th St. and the Pkwy. 215.965.4045.
Vik Muniz: Remastered
Sat., Sept. 17, 6-8pm. Through Nov. 27. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Broad and Cherry sts. 215.972.7630.
Ellen Harvey: Mirror
Fri., Oct. 14, 6-8pm. Through Jan. 8. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Broad and Cherry sts. 215.972.7600.
Fleisher Challenge 1
Through Oct. 8. 719 Catharine St. 215.922.3456.
Fleisher Challenge 2
Oct. 14-Nov. 12. 719 Catharine St. 215.922.3456.
Water Color
Oct. 7-Nov. 19. Gallery Joe, 302 Arch St. 215.592.7752.
Charles Burwell: Paintings and Drawings
Through Oct. 2. List Gallery, Swarthmore College. 610.328.7811.
Faux Show
Nov. 11–Dec. 30. Klein Art Gallery, 3600 Market St. 215.966.6188.
Francis Gregory DiFronzo: Recent Paintings
Through Oct. 2. Rosenfeld Gallery, 113 Arch St. 215.922.1376.
Anne Seidman: Watching” and “Susan Hagen: The Lost Army
Through Oct. 15. Schmidt-Dean Gallery, 1710 Sansom St. 215.569.9433.
Susan Fenton” and “Mary Murphy
Oct.-Nov. Schmidt-Dean Gallery, 1710 Sansom St. 215.569.9433.
The Alumni of 1801
Sat., Sept. 17 and Sun., Sept. 18, 3pm. Through Oct. 16. 1801 N. Howard St. 267.240.9682.