Weekly Update 1 – re-construction at the Art Institute

Students in Patrick Coué's art history class at the Art Institute organize a show of contemporary Philadelphia art, including work by Andrew Jeffrey Wright, Amy Kauffman, Scott Kaylor and Benjamin Pierce.

This week’s Weekly includes my review of re-construction at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Below is the copy with some pictures.

A Touch of Class
Art Institute students curate a well-rounded contemporary show.


The student-organized exhibition re-construction at the Art Institute.  Students in Patrick Coue's art history class
The student-organized exhibition re-construction at the Art Institute. Students in Patrick Coue’s art history class. Artists include Andrew Jeffrey Wright, Amy Kauffman, Scott Kaylor, Benjamin Pierce

The students in Patrick Coué‘s “History of 20th Century Art” class at the Art Institute of Philadelphia were hungry for a hands-on studio project to supplement the class. But since Coué, a French-born art historian now working on a graduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania, isn’t an artist, he didn’t want to assign a studio art project. He felt stymied.

Then it dawned on him: The best applied project (and the one that would teach his students the most about contemporary art) was to have them put on an exhibition and curate a show of their own.

So this semester 35 students worked with Coué on “Re: Construction,” an exhibition that came together with the cooperation and collaboration of four local artists: Andrew Jeffrey Wright, Amy Kauffman, Benjamin Pierce and Scot Kaylor.

amy kauffman
Amy Kauffman’s Trident in the Art Institute’s window.

The show—in the Art Institute’s great high-ceilinged, hotel-lobby-like gallery space­—has just enough work, which runs the gamut from irreverent to spiritual. It covers all the contemporary art bases except painting, and doesn’t beat you to death with a heavy-handed curatorial theme. The idea seems to be: “We’ll show you what we found and you decide.”

benjamin pierce
Benjamin Pierce photograph.

New to me are the abstract photographs by Benjamin Pierce, a photographer and professor of computer and information sciences at Penn. Pierce has made wonders of microscopic delight with his camera and a computer. The works are lovely, elegiac and full of spiritual longing. They evoke many things: falling water, ice shelves in Antarctica, colored water thrown in the air. In his statement the artist says he’s inspired by the watercolor paintings of Kandinsky—a seeker of the spiritual through art—and it shows.

amy kauffman
Amy Kauffman, detail, Trident

Amy Kauffman
‘s installation Trident—an accumulation of small origami boats in the room’s big front window—is a marvel. Kauffman uses chewing gum and candy wrappers, and is unique in her approach to weaving together methods of high art (such as minimalist repetition) with materials of low esteem to evoke social and cultural issues. I think of Vietnamese boat people when I see the masses of little handmade boats, so many and so much the same. They’re like a school of displaced sardines.

andrew jeffrey wright
Andrew Jeffrey Wright’s Manipulators at the Art Institute, on the flat screen tvs flanking the information desk.

It’s great to see Andrew Jeffrey Wright‘s animations (which he made with Clare E. Rojas) The Manipulators and Ich Bin Ein Manipulator. The mesmerizing animated shorts—two minutes and four minutes each—poke fun at fashion photography and body obsession. And there’s something wonderfully comical about seeing the anticorporate works on the expensive flat-panel monitors flanking the information desk.

scot kaylor
Scot Kaylor, sculpture.

Scot Kaylor‘s elegant found-object sculpture, here including a new piece with color, rounds out the show.

I hope to see more such art-ed projects, especially when they’re focused on local artists, who are always in need of serious exposure in good settings. See more pictures at my flickr set.

“Re: Construction”
Through Jan. 21, 2007. Art Institute of Philadelphia Gallery, 1622 Chestnut St. 215.567.7080.