Art in the Open – and in the rain and in a gallery

For those who believe hikes to be nothing more than forced marches, fear not, for Art in the Open was less of a wild art chase than a jaunt for your inner flaneur through several of the city’s best accidental galleries.

Art at Bartram’s Garden

Starting not in the open but upstairs in the ultra-posh Barclay building off Rittenhouse and under the watchful eye of the doorman who kindly escorted me to the Center for Emerging Visual Arts’ third floor gallery, I stole peaks at prints from the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Pittsburgh Prints Group while trying not to break anything valuable in the lobby. At the Metaphor for Memory exhibition, on view till July 1, I examined an intricate accordion book of remembered vistas carefully etched onto handmade paper—“Pieces of the Past,” by Thomas Norulak—adjacent to a wall length monotype of a glistening Rorschach floating on fiberglass fabric, entitled “Echo,” by Terri Perpich and Kenneth Beer.

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“Echo,” Terri Perpich and Kenneth Beer, monotype on fiberglass, 38” x 101”

Both pieces are evocative at different volumes and a part of CFEVA’s effort to help emerging artists reach new audiences.

Going west, I ventured out in the open onto the 18th century homestead of John Bartram, now an educational center, botanical garden, and truly unique natural gallery tucked in between old power plants, parking lots, and the river. Local printmakers from the Print Center greeted me with inky hands, and small children shoved me aside to reach the barn where I too would have eaten a trough full of hand-cranked ice cream. At Bartram’s Garden, screenprint designs pushed beyond just “putting a bird on it” to include found leaves and twigs. I learned from the exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable staff that we owe Bartram for cultivating the West’s first Ginko, and other less fetid flora, which continue to inspire AIO artists Wendy Wolf (“Ginko Dial”) and Rebecca Keller and Amber Ginsburg (“Presence and Presents”).

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“Natural Repitition: Ginko Dial,” Wendy Wolf, hand cut yupo paper leaves reproduced from Ginko trees in Washington Square Park

While Baudelaire described the young Parisian man’s flaneuring experience as requiring a dandy’s detachment, artists like Keller and Ginsburg utilize the spirit of AIO to resist all detachment. By soliciting objects to be dipped in plaster from Philly strollers along the banks of the Schuylkill and inviting others to draw all over these pieces, Keller and Ginsburg allow flaneurs to chance upon an opportunity to produce art from and for the city. The works will be photographed and re-gifted as images to those who participated.

Bible at Bartram’s Garden

While I cowered under thunderclouds, the artists bravely arranged their found objects while embracing the ephemerality of their project and describing its temporary home as “Edenic.”

Fish at Bartram’s

Many artists and organizations successfully interpreted AIO’s mission to keep art open, but the Schuylkill Banks Recreation Department failed on two parts — first, there was apocalyptic thunder, which couldn’t be avoided;  and second, they chose to screen Hancock, which should only be avoided. Philly panders enough to Will Smith, and I’d rather live under the Walnut Street Bridge than watch Hancock alongside it in the rain.

Hopefully other flaneurs found shelter from torrential downpour during AIO and will find themselves in one of the many transformed spaces like Bartram’s Garden again soon. Bartram’s is partnering with the Wood Turning Center to challenge artists to not only take inspiration from their grounds but “remix” wood from fallen trees for any variety of art projects. I look forward to stumbling on these pieces from the Challenge VIII Bartram’s Boxes Remix next year. I vow to get my inner flaneur together and damn that stormy weather.