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Libby Rosa starts Peep Projects in 2020, with a peep hole in the door to see in. Why, you ask?

Lauren Whearty interviews artist Libby Rosa, who moved to Philadelphia in 2019, opened Peep Projects in 2020 and moved Peep to Crane Arts recently. Lauren finds out more about the gallery's whimsical name and about the artist, who has a solo exhibition of her works at Bertrand Productions as part of the (re)FOCUS festival. It's a lively conversation with lots of great images. While you're planning your art trips out, be sure to stop at Peep in the Crane Building and venture up to Globe Dye Works to see Libby Rosa's show at Bertrand Productions. Enjoy!


Writer’s Preface

I had the privilege of interviewing Philadelphia artist Libby Rosa, who runs Peep Projects in the Crane Building. We talked in person and continued the interview via email. We talked about what it’s like to be an artist running a gallery, and her current exhibit, ‘BELL OUT OF ORDER PLEASE KNOCK,’ at Bertrand Productions, Globe Dye Works in North Philly, as part of the city-wide series (re)FOCUS: Philadelphia Focuses on Women in the Visual Arts

A flower is open towards the viewer, its big yellow bulbous center looking un-natural and it is surrounded by many petals from pink to lilac and orange.
Libby Rosa, “Attract,” on view in BELL OUT OF ORDER PLEASE KNOCK at Bertrand Productions, 2024. Flashe and pastel on canvas, 22”x18” Image courtesy of the artist

Lauren Whearty: What made you start Peep Projects in 2020?

Libby Rosa: In late 2019, I was new to Philadelphia, having just moved from grad school, and the few art friends I had met in the city were encouraging of the idea. As an artist, I spend a lot of time alone. I like that for half of the week, but for the other half, I need to be around other artists and friends. I started by curating a group show and kept thinking of more artists I’d love to work with and give a show to. There were more than I could fit into a calendar year, so then I decided to make it a full-fledged space.

A small gallery with a large window has a purplish-red painted floor and on the left wall a mural painting in the same shade as the floor seems top raise up from the floor like a biological form that is multiplying.
Amy Cunat, Checkerbloom, January-February 2020, in Peep at Viking Mills. Courtesy of Peep Projects
A gallery space bright lit from a large window with no curtains or shade and on the floor are three sculptures that stand up and are painted with colorful polka dots that reference parties and birthday candles in a cake — on this scale, a cake for a giant.
Bryan Jabs, ‘Happy Birthday You Were Just Born,’ May – June 2021, in Peep at Viking Mills. Courtesy of Peep Projects

Lauren: How did you come up with the gallery’s name?

Libby: At the time when Peep started in December 2020, it was the height of everyone being cautious about sharing physical space with each other. I thought of ways for visitors to view exhibitions from a distance but still in person. A backward peephole installed in the door was my solution. Visitors could view the exhibitions from the hallway instead of having to make an appointment if they felt more comfortable. The long rectangular shape of the space made this “viewpoint” possible. The Peephole also was an ode to one of my favorite works of art, permanently on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art by Marcel Duchamp called Étant Donnés. Although Peep’s current space at Crane Arts doesn’t have a peephole; there is a large window in the door that mimics this viewing experience.

Lauren: Can you talk a bit about your move to the Crane Building? Did it change your priorities, exhibitions, or approach to Peep in any way?

Libby: I moved to Crane Arts in October, 2022, after being evicted from Viking Mills. They sold the building to make condos. It was sad, of course, and annoying that the Kensington area was losing a cultural hub. The silver lining was that I was able to move into Crane Arts. Crane Arts is a beautiful big building with nice art studios and other galleries on the first floor. Although Peep is in a more professional space now, I’ll always be a little nostalgic for those days in that original space – I put a lot of love and work into those gallery walls.

A long narrow room in need of some love and attention. The white paint on the far brick wall is coming off, the left wall has daubs of paint in red and green leftover from an artist painting a piece on the wall.
Original Peep at Viking Mill (before renovations), November 2020. Courtesy of Peep Projects

My programming for Peep has remained the same, predominantly solo shows, and two-person shows. I am an artist and want do solo shows that allow me control over a space, so I want to be able to provide that for other artists. I usually do one group show a year – primarily for fun. It’s a way to connect many people quickly. I think the Philadelphia art scene is really special, and one of the most rewarding parts of running Peep is the ability to connect national and international artists I admire to each other and to Philadelphia.

A long narrow gallery is imbued with a garish yellow light, perhaps created by the color of paint on all the walls and around the large window. On the floor are five car tires.
Jonathan Santoro, In Praise of Folly, January-February 2023, in Peep at Crane Arts. Courtesy of Peep Projects

Lauren: That’s a really important aspect of artist-run galleries – manifesting for others the types of opportunities you’d want for yourself as an artist and to make opportunities that we don’t see or don’t see enough of out in the world. How do you think your own artistic ideas, preferences, etc., inform the ways you select artists for exhibitions?

Libby: I would be naive to think that my own artistic taste and preferences didn’t influence the artists I choose to show at Peep. However, I make a conscious effort to showcase a diverse range of artwork.

My approach to curating is inspired by my love for art and my appreciation for installation. While some artists and curators may focus on creating work to fill a gap or make comments on what’s missing, I prefer to take a more participatory approach. I want to be a part of the conversations already happening and show my appreciation for the artists’ creations. However, there are voices that haven’t been heard and uplifted, and we must work to rectify that. Some of my favorite exhibitions at Peep have been with artists who have been working for a long time and, in my opinion, deserve much more recognition. Nancy Mladenoff and Karsen (Karen) Heagle and Gail Fitzgerald to name a few.

A corner of a gallery with white walls, ceiling and floor shows bright colored gloppy sculptures on the right wall and a 2 dimensional work with a non-patterned group of objects drawn on it in green on a green background.
Gail Fitzgerald, Brain Freeze, January-February 2022, in Peep at Viking Mills. Courtesy of Peep Projects

Lauren: There are many parallels between your work and your gallery, one obvious one being the walls themselves – you often work with drywall. I wonder what came first? Practical use of wall improvements or an artistic and experimental approach to those materials?

Libby: It was a little bit of both. As an undergraduate BFA student at UW-Madison in Wisconsin, I explored cutting into canvases to create holes and penetrable spaces in my 2D work. This allowed me to push the dimensionality and talk more conceptually about transforming traditional spaces. When I redid all the walls in the gallery for Peep during Covid, I learned how to fill holes in sheetrock, to save outsourcing costs. After many YouTube “how to” videos, I started on the walls and got many ideas for my own work. I became interested in the materials that make up walls and started to question the permanence of the walls around me – in my home, studio and elsewhere. Drywall is actually just flimsy sheets of mud. This new skill was empowering, and I wanted that feeling to translate to my work. So, instead of filling holes in my studio with sheetrock mud, I started filling them with paintings. I exaggerated the inserts with build-out foam and used symbolic shapes as painting frames. The possibilities seem endless with this technique.

A gallery installation shows a partial wall with a scalloped top edge on the right, with small surreal window-like cut outs into the wall that take the shape and color of a leaf in one instance and in others, something abstract. Behind the scalloped wall is a yellow light emanating.
Libby Rosa, Installation of BELL OUT OF ORDER PLEASE KNOCK at Bertrand Productions, 2024. Photo courtesy of Bertrand Productions

Lauren: You’re getting ready for an exhibition of your work too, how has running a gallery informed the way you conceive of your own exhibitions? Can you also tell us about this particular upcoming show?

Libby: I am always inspired by the artists showing at Peep. I learn things from every show, such as how wonderful it is to work with ambitious, communicative, and organized artists. It makes me want to be this way. Running a space has exposed me to all the labor and details often hidden from view. I greatly appreciate galleries showing my work because I know all the work it takes to keep these spaces going. Another effect of running Peep on my work is that I fully plan my exhibitions months before they start, even the paintings. I am much more interested in a specific project for a show now and being site-specific with my work. I’ve seen artists be organized in this way, and it not only helps the artists carry out their ideas fully, it also helps the gallery promote and execute the show to their best ability.

My show at Bertrand Productions opened February 4 and runs through March 16. Artists, Joe and Stacey, who run Bertrand Productions, have been great to work with. They approached me to do an exhibition as part of (re)FOCUS: Philadelphia Focuses on Women in the Visual Arts, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of ‘Philadelphia Focuses on Women in the Visual Arts’ a citywide festival that recognized women artists which took place in 1974. Like its predecessor, (re)FOCUS is a collaboration among Philadelphia’s large, small, and diverse visual arts institutions.

I already was curating two solo exhibitions for (re)FOCUS with Nicole Mouriño, opening March 14 and Erin Murray, opening April 20 at Peep and was honored to be invited to participate with my own work through Bertrand Productions.

I have slightly altered the gallery’s architecture with an installation of sheetrock walls containing embedded paintings. There are more traditional paintings on view as well as new sculptures. The title of the exhibition references the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where a sign is displayed saying, “BELL OUT OF ORDER PLEASE KNOCK.” To me this moment symbolizes the importance of persistence and determination. In the movie, Dorothy and her companions need to reach the Wizard of Oz, and they encounter various obstacles along the way. When they arrive at the Wizard’s palace, they find that the bell system is out of order. However, instead of giving up, they knock persistently until they are eventually let in. The exhibition’s title, therefore, captures the theme of the show, which explores the lengths to which individuals will go to attain what they desire.

For more on Libby Rosa and Peep Projects, we suggest:
Review of Libby Rosa’s solo exhibition at Blah Blah Gallery, by Corey Qureshi
Review of ‘Strange Nature’ at Peep Projects, by Corey Qureshi