Weekly Update – Word-o-rama at Fleisher-Ollman and PAFA’s Morris Gallery

This week’s Weekly has my review of Fleisher-Ollman’s group show “Rich Text” and PAFA’s Morris Gallery video “Roz” by Burt Barr. Below is my copy with some pictures. And see Libby’s post on Rich Text here.

Burt Barr
Roz, by Burt Barr at PAFA’s Morris Gallery.

“Rich Text” at Fleisher-Ollman Gallery is a roundup of lusty contemporary word art that’s a smile from start to finish.  And across town, the video by New York artist Burt Barr at PAFA’s Morris Gallery is also a great word piece — serendipitously scheduled —  a rumination on what words mean when mouthed by a person who doesn’t get their meaning or doesn’t care.


 Justin Quinn
Justin Quinn, Chapter 71, or 8466 times E” (2005)

Rich Text has a couple of stupendous cut paper works whose intricate and abstract scissors play is wed to equally fine word play.  Jina Valentine and Justin Quinn have exacto’d their way through books which they cut and paste back on to their cut paper basketry.  Quinn’s love of Moby Dick (or at least Moby Dick’s words and letters) shows in his collage piece “Chapter 71 or 8466 times E” (2005) a starburst spray of the letter “E” that’s like a foghorn sounding in the night. Valentine’s “Poisonous Books” and Natasha Bowdoin‘s two works with hand-lettered words use words as visual cacophony.
Natasha Bowdoin
Natasha Bowdoin detail Untitled (Trickster Series) 2008. pencil and gouache on cut paper. 30×22″
The 21 artist show includes a number of pieces that are descendants of Jenny Holzer, an early practitioner of word art.  Holzer’s aphorisms (“a man can’t know what it is to be a mother”) with their underlying anger at the world’s injustices make them instantly endearing.

Jayson Scott Musson
Jayson Scott Musson, My Million Dollar Idea. The piece is about a reality tv show idea where a white person is put down in a black neighborhood in an undisclosed city and given $3 to take public transportation and find the nearest white neighborhood.

Jayson Scott Musson, Anthony Campuzano, Alex Da Corte all make works that riff on society’s ills.  Using a variety of means (Musson works digitally; Campuzano paints and draws; and Da Corte sculpts) the messages are earnest and delivered with urgency.


Mark Mahosky
Mark Mahosky, detail, 41 small sculptures out of cardboard, paint and wire on scavenged shelving 2000-2009

Mark Mahosky and Trevor Reese use words in sculptural settings to create quasi-autobiographical works that are tender and playful.  Bob and Roberta Smith (aka Patrick Brill) make beautiful scrap wood sign boards with funny shaggy dog stories emblazoned in lovely letters.

Wayne White
Wayne White, Tinted Lard, 2009. acrylic on offset lithograph. 18 3/4×25″


And Wayne White paints free-associative nonsense words (“tinted lard,” “invisible ruler”) on found thrift store paintings with results that resemble Grade B movie posters.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg in this show.

Burt Barr
Roz by Burt Barr. The piece opens with Roz opening her mouth to emit a long puff of smoke. She then begins to sing.

Meanwhile, PAFA’s Morris Gallery has been turned into a screening room for the next 6 months for a new video series.  Burt Barr’s Roz (2004) shows a young woman lip synching Otis Clay‘s version of “The Banks of the Ohio” while standing under running water in the shower.  Whether Roz knows the song is about a brutal murder of a young woman or not and what she thinks about that are a mystery.  The short piece loops and the repeated words tumble out of the young woman’s mouth like so many bubbles, meaningless.  Love, death and remorse go on forever, and do we, like this young woman, care or not?
Trevor Reese, Untitled (sorryimlate) 2008. stool, lights, wood, plaster 42x17x24" 
Trevor Reese, Untitled (sorryimlate) 2008. stool, lights, wood, plaster 42x17x24″

Happily, word art in 2009 is nothing like it was back in the 1970s. Today, artists use words as just another tool in the toolbox and word art is rich with color, shape, texture and narrative, all of which engages the viewer.  It’s a great time to be making word art—and these two exhibits show the range of exciting work out there.

Rich Text, through Feb. 21, Fleisher-Ollman Gallery, 1616 Walnut St., Suite 100. 215 545.7562

Roz, by Burt Barr, to Feb. 22. PAFA, Morris Gallery. Furness Building, Broad and Cherry Sts. 215 972 7600