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Apollonian/Dionysian — a packed show at the Painted Bride


[Noreen takes a look at a group show asking artists to address the disconnect between creativity, or chaos, and practicality, or order. — the Artblog editors]

If two is company, and three’s a crowd, then what do you call a show featuring works from over 20 artists? The Painted Bride Art Center calls it Apollonian/Dionysian: The Constraints of Freedom, a new show open this month until November. This two-level exhibition presents a variety of media–from painting to sculpture, photography to collage, and many in between. While its title references a classical dichotomy in artistic theory, the collection explores a contemporary crisis that many artists face: how to reconcile creative practice and being a functional part of society.

We’re all affected

Steve Garr’s “Swiss Cheese”.

The work and title of the show explore the meeting of two dynamic and binary forces in the practice of art: simply put, chaos and order. Western philosophy names these counterparts after two Greek gods: Apollo, the god of reason, art, and music, and Dionysus, the god of wine and madness. In the context of this show, curator Paul Santoleri identifies the Apollonian/Dionysian conflict as not only a matter of art, but a universal issue. This interpretation allows for a broader examination of the dichotomy; the challenge of life is to maintain the balance between order and chaos.

“Apollo Revisited” by Dirk Anschutz.

In the photograph above, “Apollo Revisited,” photographer Dirk Anschutz deals directly with the subject matter. The photographer breaks down our typical notions of Apollo, who is classically depicted as a clean-shaven, heroic, and confident youth. Here, the aging subject averts his gaze downward and to the right, eyes flanked by wrinkles. The dirty, beaten brass helmet sits slightly askew and low on the head. This revisited Apollo seems humbled, battered, and out of breath. This atypical depiction leads me to believe that, to Anschutz, the Apollonian half of the dichotomy (the necessity of order and rationality) is a burden.

Delighting in the irrational

“Pincher” by Steve Garr.

Among the sculpture of the show is the work of Steven Garr, pictured in the two images above. “Pincher” and “Swiss Cheese,” two works of precise control of wood, brass, and other metals, appear as Surrealist objects made into reality. The works reference mundane tools of creation and destruction–“Pincher” imitates a chainsaw, while “Swiss Cheese” is a battered and twisted pencil–but made inutile, and therefore irrational, through its size and circular shape. The chainsaw, usually made to cut wood, is created from the material it was meant to destroy. Through the material, the rationality of the tool is replaced by irrationality, further echoing the dichotomy of the show’s title.

“Bend” by DECHEMIA.

DECHEMIA, the collaborative force of Isobel Sollenberger and John Gibbons, presents a piece that initially struck me as a photograph. Before approaching “Bend” up close, I took the clean, smooth whiteness of the surface as a high-quality print, depicting soft undulations of fabric. However, the piece is neither a photograph nor soft–“Bend” is made of poured plaster. DECHEMIA presents the usually sculptural medium in an unorthodox way: as a 2-dimensional image. The gentle furrows of the plaster, reminiscent of plush white bedspread, become akin to drawn marks, contained within a rectangular format.

Although lively with the voices of many different artists, the gallery’s space felt too cramped for such a large exhibition. The limited space robbed some pieces of proper lighting, and many of the sculptural works did not have the space needed to fully view them.

The show, however, is nonetheless full of intellectually engaging material, especially for viewers who are artists themselves. The works balance and explore the Apollonian and Dionysian binary in many ways, from the chorus of over 20 artistic voices and the incredibly wide assortment of media. In a way, this exhibition is art for artists, calling on us to evaluate the Apollonian and Dionysian forces in our own artistic careers.

Apollonian/Dionysian is on view at The Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St., Philadelphia, PA 19106, now until Nov. 7. Gallery hours are Tues. -Sat., noon until 6 pm.