Curating the personal – I Just Can’t Get You Out of My Mind at Seraphin Gallery

Hiro Sakaguchi is an honest curator. His curatorial statement for “I Just Can’t Get You Out of My Mind” at Seraphin Gallery reads: “I choose artists whose works I want to see again for selfish reasons.” Simple enough. And, as uncalculated as his curation may be, Sakaguchi still managed to weave together a diverse and talented group of artists he discovered in the Philadelphia-area, all of whom tackle conceptually and aesthetically complicated issues with ease. By using personal taste to navigate the curatorial process, one begins to understand just what it is that Sakaguchi is interested in: detailed, relatively small drawings and paintings, either landscapes or portraiture.

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Phillip Adams, “Solipsist Will”, Charcoal on wood panel, 50″x32″ 2008

The cool, sparse work of Phillip Adams stands out upon entering the gallery. His surfaces are flawless, even jaw-dropping upon closer inspection. In the piece Solipsist Will, Adams places a figure at the bottom of the panel. The isolated figure stares back at the viewer, his environment appearing only as a reflection in his sunglasses. As the title implies, Solipsism is cleverly described through Adams’ use of space. Another piece by this artist, Exousia, suggests a middle-aged woman wearing a tiger skin on her head, though instead of being a fashionable accessory, the tiger-hat appears to be consuming her. Adams’ two, beautifully rendered pieces are perhaps the strongest work in the show, just through the sheer brilliance of his executions.

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Phillip Adams, “Exousia”, Charcoal on wood, 12″x12″ 2008
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Michael Kowbuz, “Honda”, Oil on canvas, 16″x22″ 2009

Other portraits include Michael Kowbuz’s Honda, a piece that is aesthetically reminiscent of Martin Kippenberger’s series Dear Painter, Paint for Me and Capri by Night. Kowbuz’s artists’ statement describes his interest in the relationship between cars and identity, but it’s hard to get beyond the nostalgic period reference of the late ‘70s – early ‘80s and into that investigation of cars and people. I would like to know more about Kowbuz’s fascination with and nostalgia for this particular time period and his interest in kitsch. Nonetheless, the work is funny, sad, and well painted, making it a notable contribution.

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Erin Murray, “Ugly and Ordinary Light Industrial”, Oil on panel, 16″x50″ 2010

Next to Michael Kowbuz’s work is Erin Murray’s Ugly and Ordinary Light Industrial. Murray focuses on Philadelphia’s architecture via Robert Venturi’s architectural theories, such as Ugly and Ordinary, a term Venturi uses to describe a straightforward and functional building. Murray’s work certainly exemplifies this idea, for she meticulously paints industrial beauty. Sakaguchi writes of Erin’s work, “Erin chooses to depict something that people never pay attention to or may dismiss like empty parking lots or concrete walls.” Murray’s straightforward approach is more documentarian than visionary, however, as Sakaguchi continues, “Erin may be one of the best painters in the city”. And this assertion may indeed be true.

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Marie Ulmer, untitled, Watercolor, color pencil, crayon, 13″x19″ 1930’s

Epitomizing Sakaguchi’s loose criteria of an artist whose work one wants to see more of is Philadelphia darling, Marie Ulmer. The Philadelphia native, still actively making work at the age of 92, certainly deserves the attention. (In 2009, Candace Karch of Bambi Gallery and Janel Rivera Frey of Proximity Gallery curated a solo show “Tell All” of Ulmer’s work at The University of the Arts.) Her untitled Balthus/Darger-like watercolor of several figures, mostly women, engaged in a variety of “indoor” activities is fascinating. This particular piece, dating from the 1930s, not only preserves Ms. Ulmer’s personal history but also functions as a historical document. The piece left me wanting to see more of her work — a lot more.

There are many other pieces in this show that are worth checking out, from Casey Watson’s delicately painted Jungle Skull, to Brenna Murphy’s drawings made with hair, Domestic Objects, to Sarah Roche’s self-portrait, Portrait in Armor. Sakaguchi’s intimate choices for this 14-artist show are made even more personal by his curator’s commentary. He seems invested in the personal development of each artist, as well as the development of the art scene in Philadelphia. He writes about an artist as though he’s writing a dedication in a yearbook. It seems…sweet; an adjective that one rarely, if ever, uses in the art world.

“I Just Can’t Get You Out of My Mind” is on view at Seraphin Gallery until June 25, 2010. Hiro Sakaguchi will lead a discussion with several of the exhibiting artists on June 12, 2010 at 2pm at Seraphin Gallery.