Weekly Update – Art in City Hall, bound by glass cases and mired in the past

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This week’s Weekly has my review of the show “In Your Dreams” at Art in City Hall. Below’s the copy with some pictures.

At a time of great energy and excitement in the city’s art community, “Art in City Hall”—an exhibition program launched in 1984—is stuck doing business the old-fashioned way.

Art in City Hall exhibition case deprives the art of energy and turns it into specimens
Art in City Hall exhibition case deprives the art of energy and turns it into specimens

The program is hobbled with an inaccessible location and locked into exhibit cases that severely limit what the artists can show (no video, for example). Housed in 13 glass cases in hallways on the second and fourth floors, the art exhibitions are seen by very few people: city employees, those doing business in City Hall and artists’ friends and families who attend openings. The public is welcome, but the display is hard to find and visitors must sign in, get a printed name badge and pass through electronic security gates before heading to the show.

Looking up at the surreal gargoyles and statuary atop the Northeast corner of City Hall. Inside the art is locked in glass cases.
Looking up at the surreal gargoyles and statuary atop the Northeast corner of City Hall. Inside the art is locked in glass cases.

Right now, the 50-artist juried exhibit “In Your Dreams” is on view.  The show captures the artists’ reverie-fueled imaginings and demonstrates that almost a century after the Surrealist movement, dream imagery continues to attract a range of artists.

As with all big art roundups, “In Your Dreams” is a little uneven.   There is standout work, but 13 cases is a lot of space to fill.  And in between works that feel fresh and exciting, there’s dross. Paintings that parrot the Surrealists too closely (the back of a bald man’s head before a lovely cloudy sky too closely evokes Magritte; vessels in the shape of human figures with body parts seen outside the body are typical magic realism imagery).  Some images are too cute (bunnies and bunny slippers staring at each other), and some sculptures seem amateurish, the materials in need of better handling.

Justin Duerr, detail
Justin Duerr, detail, Guardian Sisters of the Wombic: Calm inside the First Bor, ink on paper. 39×70″

The most gripping work is by Justin Duerr, a true visionary artist. Duerr—who is part of Coalition Ingenue, the advocacy group that helps the homeless express themselves through art—makes fantastical ink drawings on napkins, placemats and butcher paper. In his one work in the show, words and images float together in an inky gameboard-like design that is edge-to-edge manic. Every part of the image feels like it is coming straight at you. Angry birds wearing dresses scream an urgent message. An androgynous figure—depicted several times—speaks an obsessive inner monologue about suffering, escape, loss and being shot. The work is amazing and beautiful.

Tanya Murphy Dodd's photo collage
Tanya Murphy Dodd’s photo collage

Elsewhere, Tanya Dodd’s photo collage of an African-American family sitting on railroad tracks in the middle of a dark forest evokes the ghosts of the Underground Railroad. Kip Deeds’ delicate drawing of himself on an impossibly tall ladder with a crowd of faces watching him is a depiction of every artist’s fear of failure.

Kip Deeds, detail
Kip Deeds, Almost Finished, mixed media. detail

Like many Art in City Hall shows this one has some wonderful art and is worth seeing.  But artists would get more benefit from the city’s art program if their 21st century art was shown in 21st century fashion somewhere more accessible to the majority of art viewers.

“ In Your Dreams ” Through Sept. 11. Free. “Art in City Hall,” second and fourth floors, NE corner. 215.686.9912

Tags

art in city hall, in your dreams, justin duerr, kip deeds, tanya murphy dodd

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