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New Space, New Work at Gallery Joe

Rachel Sitkin reveals Gallery Joe's new direction, with small, selective shows taking place in an airy, light-filled condo. -- Artblog editor


In 1993, Gallery Joe opened it doors in a rented space at 302 South Arch St. in Old City. For 22 years, gallery owner Rebecca “Becky” Kerlin gained an unimpeachable reputation for presenting work of the highest caliber, primarily contemporary drawing and works on paper, by Philadelphia-based artists and a carefully curated selection of international artists. Over the years, she has honed her mission: to provide Philadelphia artists an opportunity to exhibit their work in context with a broad range of international artists, and to show work that isn’t otherwise seen in Philadelphia.

Calm condo, colorful selections

Installation view, New Space, New Work, 2016, Gallery Joe Photo Credit: Rachel Sitkin
Installation view, New Space, New Work, 2016, Gallery Joe. Photo Credit: Rachel Sitkin

After several years operating under the looming threat of building renovations at 302 South Arch, Becky decided to pack up and relocate the gallery to her condo at 2 Saint James Court, just off Washington Square in Society Hill. Across the street from the modern 1970s condo complex, a 28-story high rise is under construction. The construction is part of the reason Becky and her husband, artist Gil Kerlin, decided to move out of the condo, but the light-filled living room, and quiet back bedroom provide a comfortably intimate space for viewing the delicate details that Gallery Joe’s artists are known for.

Installation view, Alex Paik, Improvisation #1 for Right Triangle (Magenta), 2015 Photo Credit: Rachel Sitkin
Installation view, Alex Paik, Improvisation #1 for Right Triangle (Magenta), 2015. Photo Credit: Rachel Sitkin

New Space, New Work features a selection of work by Gallery Joe staple artists Jill Baroff, Astrid Bowlby, Emily Brown, Marilyn Holsing, Sharka Hyland, Alex Paik, and Mia Rosenthal, as well as newly represented artists Katrin Bremerman (Germany) and Gloria Ortiz-Hernandes (b. Colombia, lives in New Jersey). In each of the three pieces by Bremerman, ultra-crisp modernist figures of shiny slick enamel float on atmospheric waxed paper grounds. Though known for her more minimal abstract works on paper, Gloria Ortiz-Hernandez contributed two mesmerizing hyper-real colored pencil drawings of rubber bands to the show.

A new model for galleries

Installation view, Allyson Strafella, Sketches 107, 103, 100, 62, and 16, 2013Photo credit: Rachel Sitkin
Installation view, Allyson Strafella, “Sketches 107, 103, 100, 62, and 16” (2013). Photo credit: Rachel Sitkin
Installation view, Roland Flexner, Untitled (LG147), Liquid graphite on paper, 2010 Photo Credit: Rachel Sitkin
Installation view, Roland Flexner, “Untitled (LG147)” (2010), liquid graphite on paper. Photo Credit: Rachel Sitkin

Gallery Joe has also incorporated a new business model for this new space. “The market is asking for a different model,” Becky told me. “It’s hard to do exhibitions in your gallery space and also do the fairs. You HAVE to do the fairs, and they are extremely expensive. Putting money into an exhibition when you get so few people coming in to see it—economically, it’s not working anymore.” The gallery is now open by appointment only, but Becky says they will usually be open 10am – 5:30pm and encourages people to knock on the door if they are in the neighborhood.

“Fair” trade

Gloria Ortiz-Hernandez, Rubber Bands #31, Pencil and color pencil on paper, 2012
Gloria Ortiz-Hernandez, “Rubber Bands #31” (2012), pencil and color pencil on paper.

In 2016, Gallery Joe has already participated in the Art on Paper art fair in New York (March 4 – 6) and will have a booth at Drawing Now, Paris from March 30 – April 3. Immediately upon returning from Drawing Now, the gallery will feature painterly gouache drawings on paper by Irish artist Eithne Jordan and graphite drawings by Swiss artist Marcel Gähler, neither of whom is represented by the gallery, yet.

Katie Bremerman, No: 1606, Enamel on waxed paper, 2016
Katie Bremerman, “No: 1606” (2016), enamel on waxed paper.

New Space, New Work marks a new direction for Gallery Joe, but as always, Becky’s enthusiasm and respect for her artists remains the foundation of the program. Though she regrets that her artists will have fewer opportunities to exhibit entire bodies of work, Becky seems confident they will gain greater exposure at the fairs, and the gallery will be much more dynamic, rotating work off the walls as it sells and installing new work as the artists create it.

New Space, New Work is on view through April 16 at Gallery Joe by appointment only.

Rachel Sitkin is a painter and writer based in Philadelphia. She is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to The Studio Visit online journal and BMore Art.