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Art criticism explosion–People/Places/Things is the newest entry


About a year ago, a discussion at P’unk Ave about Philly’s need for more critical art writing–and/or a different brand of it than Artblog and the print newspapers offer–was a gauntlet thrown down to Philadelphia’s artists, curators, art writers and thinkers.

Since then, several publications have attempted to fill that gap. The latest entry is People/Places/Things, from AWRG. AWRG stands for Art Workers Resource Group. The Art Workers of the world who have united here in town are art historians John Vick (at Fleisher/Ollman, who has contributed to Artblog on occasion), Lauren Rosenblum (at Locks–we just had a chat on another subject last week!), and Claire Howard, who’s a research assistant in modern and contemporary at the art museum. Each of them has contributed to the first issue.

The back cover of People/Places/Things shows art related to the three essays. The cover design is by Jonathan Gorman.

They do not mean to be an exclusive group. Others who are serious can join, just so long as they take the task at hand seriously.

The task at hand arrived on my doorstep last week, and I immediately liked the way it felt and looked (cover design by Jonathan Gorman)–zine-y construction meets quality materials, images and editorial organization, with a touch of old-fashioned, ecru-colored paper for the cover–a material manifestation of the group’s intent to mine the past for a context for the present.

When the group gets its sealegs, People/Places/Things will become more widely available in print, according to John Vick:

This first issue was a pretty small run of 250.  We mailed about 50-100 copies to people we thought would like it.  Others are going to be dropped off at places like Vox.  5 even went to Japan for a zine library!  Since we’re not charging anything for copies, and since we don’t have tons of money to throw around, we decided to wait and see what kind of feedback we get from issue 1 before doing a larger distribution for issue 2.

For now, a PDF copy of volume 1 can be downloaded from the AWRG website, where you can also find more information about the group, its activities, and membership.

front cover
The front cover of the new People/Places/Things indicates the publication’s Philadelphia focus

All three articles in Volume 1 have Philly angles, and two of them have somewhat of a newspeg. The magazine’s intent is to bring context–historical and contemporary–to the flow of art writing in Philadelphia, and that is more or less what the trio did.

Take Vick’s piece about the Pancha Tantra lecture and book signing by Walton Ford at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Vick offers a brief but interesting discussion of the changing relationship between art and science over the past 200 years, and in that context, he discusses Ford’s use of the Academy and other museum materials as well as Audubon’s use of nature. Vick’s essay is easy to swallow, a slider full of crunchy information and insights.

Other topics explored in the first issue–Howard’s essay on the late Walter Hopps’ fearlessness as a curator (a context for the recent Duchamp Etant Donnes show at the PMA) and Rosenblum’s essay on artist and printer Matt Neff’s role in using the letterpresses at Penn as tools for education and art.

The writing and art-historical academic approach are welcome and I am happy to see this publication add its voices to the other critical, relatively philosophical publications that have cropped up since the P’unk Ave. event. By others I mean Machete and New Asshole (the third issue is languishing, alas, and I don’t know the prognosis). And I don’t want to leave out Annette Monnier’s one-woman-operation One Review a Month, because she too brings gravitas to her observations about the contemporary art she sees.

The mix of approaches speaks well for a richer conversation on the meaning of what’s happening here.