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Lots and lots of stuff at Fleisher Challenge 4


Shelley Spector
Shelley Spector, installation at Fleisher Challenge 4.
Palms Open, oil, acrylic and enamel on wood and mixed. 28.5x8x34″ 2007
Balls and Chain. oil on wood, paper and clay with chain. 14x14x34″ 2007
Red Eagle, oil on paper, wood and clay and metal, 14x20x34″ 2008

Accumulations — of words, pencils, birds, people and memories sit at the table in the Fleisher Challenge 4 exhibit. The 3-person exhibit by Judy Gelles, Erica Zoe Loustau and Shelley Spector is by turns energetic, nostalgic and dreamy.

Spector‘s mechanized sculptural objects made from scrap wood and found objects (or in several cases digital prints laminated onto objects) focus on music, people and place with one eye forward and one eye back. Spector (a longtime friend of artblog) is having her first solo show in more than two years. Working more serendipitously than in previously well-orchestrated installations (like her Jewish- and community-themed show at Painted Bride, see post and post) here she’s got discrete objects that read as entities on their own yet talk nicely with their partners. Spector’s a great meticulous object maker and her pencil log cabin with the black smoke coming out is probably my favorite piece both for its whimsy and its great use of a found material.

Shelley Spector. Out the Roof, acrylic and graphite on pencils and wood, 7.5x7x12" 2007
Shelley Spector. Out the Roof, acrylic and graphite on pencils and wood, 7.5x7x12″ 2007

Her work has always been about people as icons. Here she’s made icons of music with her little record player and song lyric-word pieces on the walls. The record player, which resembles a child’s record player from the 50s does not really work but it’s tricked out with electronics that play music. The songs are not contemporary and suggest songs from the 40s. The music washes the gallery in pop cultures past–a reminder that our songs today will sound equally out of place some years down the road. Time has also been a big subject for Spector and she’s measuring it out here in all her pieces which refer backwards and forwards but somehow not to today. Her large prints of a ruler, a belt and other things (a scrabble game) make icons of everyday objects and transform what are often discards into something to ponder.

Judy Gelles
Judy Gelles. Word Portraits, 2008. 49×29″ printed on duraclear/mounted on plexi

Judy Gelles‘s word portraits are ghostly silhouettes printed on plexiglas of ten couples she interviewed. The words from the interviews are super-imposed on the bodies and show how the interviewees describe themselves. Gelles (also a long time friend of artblog) has rounded up not only 20 people but maybe 50 words to describe each couple for a total of around 500 words for you to read. I like the idea a lot and I think Gelles is a great interviewer (her video piece at Moore College asking people questions about their ages and how they felt about being that age — is moving and funny and unexpected, see Libby’s post.)

Judy Gelles. Them, 2006. Duraclear print mounted on Plexiglas. 49×29″

But I wanted to see more of the full body photo portraits (which by their posture and carriage look to be quite wonderful portraits of couples) and less of the words which are not so juicy visually –even though they are nice pairings and tell much about the people. But without the visual power of the photo portraits to attract and hold your attention the words were like a lacey veil. I would have found the reading of them much more congenial in a book. In fact the series would make a fantastic book.

Erica Zoe Loustau
Erica Zoe Loustau. Rapunzel’s Longing installation, paper, monofilament, mahogany, muslin, polyfil, broom grass

Erica Zoe Loustau‘s Rapunzel’s Longing, an installation with paper birds and a sculptural Rapunzel doll in flight looks like it exploded out of a children’s book — or an animated movie of a children’s book. The figure, part wood, part fabric and broom grass (the hair) is supposed to be a re-envisioned Rapunzel taking her life (and hair) into her own hands and jumping, not waiting for the prince to rescue her. However, the Second Life avatar-like generic quality of the figure is off-putting, as is the spray of upwardly mobile hair. The birds evoke Hitchcock’s birds and the whole thing rides on the edge between exuberance and threat. Better than the installation are the several small digital prints that the artist drew images on to represent the story. Once again, I think a book might be better than a big installation to convey a message.

And furthermore
Stay tuned for official news about next year’s Challenge series. After 30 some years of exhibitions, Fleisher will alter its Challenge program in some small but significant ways. Exhibitions Director Warren Angle told me that after conferring with experts and focus groups and working long and hard on the ideas, they’re going to implement changes including:

  • Three shows per year instead of the current four — with each show running longer than the current four weeks;
  • A stipend for the artists;
  • Increased programming around the shows.

It’s very exciting. The Fleisher Challenge exhibits used to be the premier — and at times the only — spot to see top emerging talent in Philadelphia, and while of late Fleisher’s been eclipsed by the flood of alternative venues doing it themselves and mining the rich emerging art community here, the Challenge — which is always juried by top curators and art professionals from the community — can still be a big player, and these changes will bring it back onto the radar of top young artists looking to show on a big stage.