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The bully pulpit


You may have seen Ed Sozanski’s pointedly nasty review of “Open Air”, in which he called the piece boring and banal.

Open Air_Rahzel performs with Mayor Michael Nutter (l) watching the lights_9-20-12_credit James Ewing

When there are so many other words he could have used to describe a piece that actually has some visual pizazz and a community-spirited heart, I have to ask ‘Why?’

Mr. Sozanski writes about a great range of art in his job as the town’t major art critic. When he is writing about a museum exhibit; that is, when he puts on his critic hat and writes beautifully about an (often dead) artist whose work is (mostly) representational, Mr. Sozanski can be a joy to read.  He gets it, he is enlightened and he shares his ideas and thoughts in what can be lyrical prose, with lots of facts and crunchy details.

But when Mr. Sozanski is writing about art by a living contemporary artist, it’s like he’s wearing a different hat — with blinders.  His words tend — not always but many times — to be harsh and dismissive. And as in the case of “Open Air,” he can fall back on bully words like banal and boring.

I can only assume that our contemporary art critic does not like contemporary art. It all annoys him.

I am not a huge fan of the Lozano-Hemmer piece on the Parkway, although I think the artist is one to watch. I like the spotlights, they are likable; they are not banal and boring. And I really like, and love, the project’s core principle, which is to empower people — ordinary folks — to express themselves, even if it is only to say wow.

A long time ago, our ancestors made cave paintings, and others said wow. Leonardo painted Mona Lisa — and we all still say wow. It is human to like things and human to want to express things, even things that are banal, like wow, or isn’t the moon pretty tonight.

Philadelphia is experiencing an unprecedented flourishing of its contemporary art scene, and it is a shame our major critic has a blind spot when it comes to contemporary art.