Weekly Update – Tower Gallery’s Cool Heat

This week’s Weekly includes my review of the group show at Tower Gallery in Northern Liberties. Below is the copy with some pictures and here’s the link to the art page.

“Bright Lights,” Pink City
Three young artists confront violence and disaster with pastels.

Tower Gallery, the high-ceiling, cement-floor space in the Tower Investments Building at 969 N. Second St., has been showing art for a couple years now. But until last summer—when Jenny Jaskey approached Bart Blatstein, president and CEO of Tower Investments, about running an exhibition program—there wasn’t a gallery director, and shows stayed under the radar.

Orlando Soria
Orlando Soria’s I’m watching the Polar Ice Caps Melting, installed in Tower Investments’ lobby. Soria is a Penn MFA student who will graduate in the spring. Jaskey told me that he grew up in Yosemite National Park and was influenced by the occurrence of random death that happened in the park as people fell or got lost and exposed to the elements. Apparently that happens all the time.

Jaskey, a North Carolina native who came to Philadelphia for grad school (she studied theology and art at Westminster Seminary in Glenside), got Blatstein’s approval, entered into a lease arrangement for the space and just debuted her first exhibition.

Orlando Soria
Soria, click to see the image — beautiful, Japanese-like wave carrying along a victim.

“Turn on the Bright Lights”—the title is from a 2002 Interpol song—is an emerging-artists show with Nathan Wasserbauer, Orlando Soria and Jackie Hoving. The show (like the song) is a little downbeat with work addressing eco-disaster, death, violence and complex impenetrable systems.

Jackie Hoving
Jackie Hoving’s beautiful birds, and pretty webs in a work of paint and print on mylar.

But while the works are imbued with anxiety about our 21st-century world, there’s little heat or anger on display. Instead the subjects are treated almost clinically, and the ambience is a little shrug-shouldered. The color schemes are bleached pastels or sweet candy colors. The worlds depicted and the people and animals inhabiting them are flat, graphic and stylized. It feels like we’re in the zone of decor, although you won’t find the subject matter in Ikea prints or posters. Any heat transmitted here comes through in the individual titles. (The song, Jaskey says, is about urban violence.)

Tower Gallery
The gallery’s long like a bowling lane and very high ceilinged. The floor’s spotted with years of Schmidt Brewery’s use. The lighting’s a little off — fluorescents and spots. But it’s good to have a new space up there. And Jaskey’s seriously working it. Next show will be Hedwige Jacobs and Alexis Granwell.

Soria’s works are iconic and intriguing. His figures are ghostly pale and outlined as if in a coloring book, and the mood is magical. Comets shoot out of (or into) people’s heads; a person rides on top of an ocean wave like he’s some kind of sacrificial lamb.

Nathan Wasserbauer
Nathan Wasserbauer. Layered System. This work is a celebration of baroque complexity in 21st Century systems. It reminds me of the “flatten layers” command in Photoshop which can amass untold numbers of layers into one image at the touch of a button. Wasserbauer, who lives in New York (the other two artists are local), is working as an assistant to Jeff Koons, Jaskey said.

Wasserbauer’s two silkscreen paintings depict a universe of systems so complex and overlapping it’d be an engineer’s nightmare. But this is a celebration of complexity, not a condemnation.

Hoving’s prints and mixed-media works show silhouetted wild animals in combat between layers of baroque patterning, all completed with pleasing colors.

All the works are very well done, and the prices are rock bottom: Wasserbauer’s works, at $950 each, are a steal for an artist who was just picked up by a Chelsea gallery.

art corridor
Art in the corridor outside Bart Blatstein’s office, Tower Investments. It’s a nice lineup of sculptural objects. Although the wheelbarrow full of shavings is technically not art, I was told by an employee. It’s just shavings in a barrow. But hey, it was gorgeous to look at, and that’s why it’s there. It’s art.

I asked Blatstein whether the city’s Percent for Art requirement was pushing his moves like the gallery space and the new 20-foot-tall art banners on Liberty Walk. “Nobody’s pushing us to do it,” he says. “I love art.”

Liberty Walk
Twenty-foot banners display art by Tyler students. I was told there was a competition and somebody selected the winners whose art is up. Sharyn O’Mara’s name was mentioned as a facilitator for that project. O’Mara is assistant or associate dean at Tyler.

Say what you will about gentrification of this neighborhood. The northern edge of Northern Liberties is really close to the Crane Art Center—even walkable. In time this Girard Avenue corridor could become our own little Chelsea on the Delaware. See more pictures at my flickr set.

“Turn on the Bright Lights”
Through Jan. 2. Tower Gallery, 969 N. Second St. 215.253.9874.