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Investigating Provisional Art in Kensington’s Fjord Gallery


Using careful compositions that are deceptively simple but engage the viewer on many levels, Considering the Provisional at Fjord Gallery explores the aesthetics of “provisional art.”

With work by eight young painters from New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Oakland, the exhibit was partly put together in response to a May, 2009, piece by Raphael Rubinstein in Art in America magazine. Rubinstein caused a stir by identifying provisional art as a new theoretical approach to aesthetics.  The provisional art premise has since been adopted for a show of contemporary work at Modern Art, London. Now, Philadelphia co-curators Liam Holding and Sean Robert FitzGerald are taking a crack at identifying just what is provisional art, as it emerges organically and cohesively in the diverse work of several young artists.

annabelle speer ghost snow
“Ghost Snow” by Annabelle Speer

Rubinstein originally identified the provisional as art that incorporates deliberation and indecision into the finished product. Citing artists like the Dadaists, Cezanne, Miro, and writers Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka, Rubinstein wrote of provisional art as a contemporary response to the rejection of the idea of finished, durable work, in part compounded by the cornering of visual artists in the cultural conversation. With this theoretical starting point one immediate question to the viewer of Considering the Provisional may be whether the artists at work really have enough depth to take on Rubinstein’s vision of “the art of exhaustion.” However, the paintings in in the show are often energetic and exuberant.

Untitled Brendan Smith
“Untitled” by Brendan Smith

At a time when young artists often pursue expression in alternate visual media, those in this show are very committed to paint. Brendan Smith’s tubular, visceral works even have crests of paint licking off the canvas.

jenna weiss acreage
“Acreage” by Jenna Weiss

Jenna Weiss’ large abstract piece “Acreage” on unframed cloth tacked to the wall suggests a composition of weight-bearing objects that float in a dizzying vertigo of tensionless space. The ideas of weight and float are heightened by the seeming hastiness of the sketched shapes and the flimsy fabric of the piece.

Corner Painting Hannah Hall
“Corner Painting” by Hannah Hall

Hannah Hall’s “Corner Painting” is a chipped and taped geometric exploration that captures the simultaneous invitation and obstruction Rubinstein credited to the spirit of provisionality.

Inner and Outer Amy Feldman
“Inner and Outer” by Amy Feldman

Amy Feldman’s Inner & Outer (above) is an altered ‘eye of god’ pattern, spiraling into the canvas. Likewise, Ryan McCartney’s “Lot #3” outlines the presence of a complex and undefined structure, partly obscured by dark mist.

lot 3 ryan mccartney
“Lot 3” by Ryan McCartney

Co-curator Liam Holding said that Rubinstein’s concept of the provisional tied the paintings together but didn’t fully encapsulate the show or the artists on show. Holding and FitzGerald selected works that share a commitment to visual storytelling through paint, “sincere” works that restrict themselves to two or three compositional moves and invite viewers into participation. As a step away from complicated visual game-playing and toward “provisional” simplicity that is still built up on complex compositions, these paintings feel like the start of something new.

For more information, visit See the show online here.  Considering the Provisional will be up at Fjord Gallery, 2419 Frankford Ave., Kensington, through May 27.