Weekly Update – Year end roundup

This week’s Weekly has my year end wrap up. Below’s the copy with some pictures. More images at flickr.

It Was a Very Good Year
In spite of hardships and lack of leadership, the art scene thrives.

Little Berlin video
Video projection at Little Berlin. The up and coming alternative space carved out a video viewing space curtained off from the rest of the gallery and added seating — getting it right from the start!

It’s been a shockingly good year for visual arts in Philly thanks to new utopianism leading the way.

Young artists rose up like a wave, opening cooperative venues like FLUXspace and Little Berlin, fueled by a can-do spirit and love of making things happen.

Elsewhere financial hardship was averted as Gilbert Building refugees Asian Arts Initiative, Vox Populi and the Fabric Workshop and Museum—evicted to make way for the Convention Center expansion—landed on their feet and are coping surprisingly well.

The PMA debuted its new Perelman Building to fanfare and rave reviews (our posts here here and here, and Pew Trusts added more dollars to its grant programs. These bellwethers point to a good 2008, the year of a new mayor who’ll reestablish an office of cultural affairs and bring civic leadership and dollars to a scene exploding with energy.

Takeshi Murata’s Red Dot video shown at Screening recently. Screening is another component of the Vox Populi mix — a dedicated video screening lounge within the larger gallery.

With the chaos and strain from the Gilbert Building eviction, 2007 could’ve been the death of the city’s premier alternative cooperative Vox Populi. But after a two-month closure and a laborious move to 319 N. 11th St., Vox is stronger than before. The energy of 12 young new members helped. And now, fueled by a significant multiyear grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation to fund guest artist and curator programs and catalogs, the 20-year-old cooperative is poised to do for Philadelphia what White Columns and Artist’s Space do for New York: create a buzz heard ’round the world.

Jane Irish, Room with Blue Vase, on view at Locks Gallery.
Jane Irish, Room with Blue Vase, on view at Locks Gallery.

Speaking of global, ’07 saw more Philadelphia galleries participate in international art fairs like the recent Art Basel Miami. Calls to Gallery Joe, Pentimenti, Schmidt-Dean, Cerealart and Projects indicate our galleries do well at the fairs with sales volume they can’t achieve at home, and a global audience of collectors and curators that helps bring tourist dollars to the city as well. In other local gallery news, blue-chip Locks Gallery discovered two great, underrepresented Philadelphia women artists: Joy Feasley and Jane Irish.

Phoebe Washburn
Phoebe Washburn’s transformation of the ICA project ramp into a kind of eco-chapel is one of the best site specific projects to appear there.

In the museums, ICA continued to predict the Whitney Biennial, this year showcasing Phoebe Washburn (who’s in the 2008 Biennial). And the PMA continued to purchase bold contemporary art like the new tapestry by South African artist William Kentridge now on view (along with other Kenridge tapestries on loan for the show) in the contemporary galleries. This was a great purchase of a living artist whose name isn’t well known in Philadelphia but who’s a giant of contemporary art and one of the era’s seminal thinkers and practitioners.

William Kentridge, Office Love, 2001
William Kentridge’s tapestries loom over viewers in the PMA Contemporary Art galleries.

Pew Fellowships upped the dollar amount for its individual artist awards from $50,000 to $60,000, spread over one to two years. They should take the amount right up to $100,000 and make it a two-year disbursement. The Fellowship’s mission is to enable artists to take a creative time out to jump-start exciting new work. A liveable two-year stipend would allow this new work to happen.

Brent Wahl
New Vox Populi member Brent Wahl, The Most Fearful and Merciful Thing in the World. aluminum foil (attached to monofilament suspended in front of a painted black circle in the corner of the gallery.

Sadly, we said goodbye to PAFA curator of contemporary art Alex Baker (who left for a senior curating job at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia), and to Abington Art Center’s curator Amy Lipton (who’s headed to the Fields Sculpture Park in upstate New York). Baker’s great mix of old/new and high/low in the Morris Gallery, and Lipton’s eco-fueled global/local programming at Abington, set the bar high. They’ll be missed.