The artists in Staged—Allison Kaufman, Tim Portlock, Jennifer Williams, and Kimberly Witham—are Career Program Development fellows at the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA). I had previously seen work by each of them, alongside other current CFEVA fellows, this summer at a much more expansive show held in the Ice Box at Crane Arts. The grouping of these select four, each represented by a handful of pieces, yields a tight, brisk, and enjoyable dash of a show. The exhibition title derives its name from their use of staged artifice, a choice that hints at layers of meaning tucked just beneath the surface, or at times hidden in plain sight. The transparent staginess in the work, I think, breeds an air of absurdity about the subject matter, which in turn produces its own dryly comic effect...
...If another current emerges from putting these four artists together, it is spatial relationships: how we relate to other people, the natural world, the urban setting and everyday objects in it. They tip us off to an underlying strangeness in ritual human activity by steering one thing amiss in an otherwise normal setting. So is everything in our lives “staged”? We are put in the uncomfortable position of being made aware of things that are unconsciously present, but far from the top of our minds.
The Mount Airy Contemporary Artists Space (MACAS) at 25 W. Mt Airy Ave. was bustling with activity Sunday evening as POST drew to a close. Artists and aficionados mingled in the small gallery, which featured work by four very different artists under the common theme “Staged,” a reference to the particular (and often deliberate) ways in which we inhabit and utilize space.
Kimberly Witham recontextualized domestic space in her art with the inclusion of a taxidermy deer photographed in unlikely places, such as a living room couch. Tim Portlock digitally reassembled images of homes in West Philly into a large “map,” creating a unique view of the sometimes troubled geographic area.
Along the far wall, a series of video monitors played “Trust Falls” by Alison Kaufman, a series of short films in which she explores the notion of trust through a series of interactions with divorced men who had experienced a breach of trust in their breakups.
Finally, Jennifer Williams artistically commented on the little gallery itself through her depiction of extension cords, an explicit reference to the infrastructure of the space, rendered visible by electrical cords running along the ceiling beams.
Upstairs, owners Andrea and Colin Keefe have two small studio spaces where they produce their own work. MACAS occupies what was likely an old carriage house, circa 1870s, that served a Germantown Avenue hotel.
The Keefes moved to Mt. Airy four years ago, and opened the gallery two years later.
“We’re not really a commercial enterprise,” Colin Keefe said.
MACAS curates three or four shows a year, opening them to the public from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
Becoming a POST venue was a logical next step for the pair, who are committed to helping emerging visual artists find opportunities to show their work.
“We aren’t necessarily as experimental as something like Vox Populi downtown—they really push the envelope, but we have our own aesthetic,” said Keefe. “We’re just doing things that we like.”
A smartly paired two-person show of paintings and sculpture by Mark Masyga and paintings by Erin Murray has one more Saturday to go at Mount Airy Contemporary Artists Space.
Masyga's paintings of stacked rectangular forms suggest the detritus common to industrial sites, such as unruly piles of wood pallets; that impression is bolstered by his sculptures of wood, plaster, Structo-Lite, and actual detritus that are surely meant to be his own table-size demolitions.
Murray has painted a series of modernist-influenced houses and commercial buildings that are the poor relatives of the elegant glass rectangles designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. These less fortunate structures have fake mansard roofs slapped on top of them, enormous front windows that reflect the hideous hodgepodge of architecture across the street, or are, perhaps, an abandoned gas station or a two-story early version of the strip mall. But Murray infuses her knock-off architecture with a dark sense of humor. The top of a pine tree sticks up incongruously behind a one-story office building, right in the middle, like a bizarre ornament, in Executive Mansardic; the abandoned gas station in Miesian Influence Loop is shown from the back, as if embarrassed.
The latest show at the Mount Airy Contemporary Artists Space pairs the assemblages of Alexis Granwell with the paintings of Rick Lewis and proves (again) that contemporary art can pass muster anywhere, even in an 18th-century carriage house in bosky Mount Airy.
Granwell's delicate interminglings of colorful cast-off bits of cardboard, leather, wood, wire, paint, and thread look like abstract paintings set loose from canvases. They're the descendants of works by artists like Judy Pfaff and Richard Tuttle, but with a whimsical architecture all their own.
All kinds of ingredients coalesce in Lewis' small, rough-hewn abstract paintings - besides oil paint and dry pigments, you can find asphalt, marble dust, newsprint, and graphite in the mix. I see walls with remnants of posters and graffiti on them as a possible influence, but they can also resemble aerial views of landscapes.
11/9/2009 - Artblog Review of On the Fringe of Nature; “Art in the Nabe”, Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof
This was our first venture out there for the exhibit On the Fringe of Nature, with work by John Slaby (he had a Fleisher Challenge last year) and Brooklyn artists Siobhan McBride (a Penn fine arts grad) and Amy Chan–three representational artists using gouache on paper. Slaby’s dreamy, wry narratives evoke a sort of hipster eden that never was. McBride’s collage-like landscapes and lichen-like surfaces reel with the tension between flat and perspectival space. And Chan’s foliage and nature-inspired closeups, collaged or 3-dimensional, are supersized without the threat of say Alexis Rockwell.
In addition to the art, we are interested in the curating of the space–the Keefes are mashing up out-of-town artists with Philadelphia folks. If this show is any example, the aesthetics cohere notwithstanding the geographical distance.
The Keefes have created an elegant gallery space in the old out-building, with pristine, hanging walls that are architectural statements–a super space for exhibiting small works. The two of them, both artists, have their artist studios upstairs. In addition, Colin works as an IT consultant, and Andrea teaches at Central High School in Philadelphia. They moved here from Williamsburg when the realized they were outgrowing the youthful demographic of the neighborhood. The gallery location grows out of having a 3-year-old and a life that’s rooted in Mt. Airy.
On First Fridays, they open the gate on the side of their house so people can walk into the gallery without going through the house. They’ve been getting impressive crowds of more than 100 local people with families in tow. Many of them probably wouldn’t even dream of heading to Center City for First Friday. The crowd also includes the artists and other art folks who come in from outside the neighborhood.
The model for showing art here is typical DIY. The place is a show space, not a business. If someone wants to buy a piece, the Keefes will put the artist in touch with the buyer directly. This way, there’s no business license or taxes. It’s a labor of love.
9/3/2009 - Mount Airy Independent - “Two Artists Display at Mt Airy Gallery”
Queens artists Craig Kane and Timon Meyers mine pop culture, mythology and personal history at Mount Airy Contemporary. Kane’s tiny, delicate sculptural installations in boxes, on the floor or on the wall use found materials—such as photos and tree branches—with hand-carved words to whisper about the ephemeral nature of life and human vulnerability. Meyers’ easel-sized digital photos merge appropriated television images from daytime tv with appropriated online images of mythological creatures like centaurs, the minotaur and elves. Television’s garish colors and harsh lighting make a great backdrop for beast-on-beast fighting scenes and close-ups of elfin-eared ladies.
Lone hours in the studio crafting and packaging your zeitgeist is not enough these days. In fact, even if you have your finger on the pulse and produce firm ideas that encapsulate engaging images and objects, that ain’t enough either. Art is expected to somehow transcend history and also speak in the jargon of Contemporary Art. It is a refined and complex language as well as a contextual message from the gut. How do know if you are accomplishing this? Well, it is only through some interaction with the “white cube.” The experience gives young artists a taste of responsibility involved in embarking on serious art making.
With visual artists Colin and Andrea Keefe's May 1 opening of a new gallery at 25 West Mt. Airy Avenue, the two Brooklyn transplants are set to make this week's First Friday look a bit like an Old City arts crawl.
"It's like a mix of backyard barbeque and high art," Colin joked.
But while the setting of the back lot carriage house is undeniably residential, the show inside has every appearance of a 3rd Street gallery. In fact, the details of the project are shaping up to be a convincing illustration of the power, and grace, of social networking in the art world.
Living the creative life usually requires a bit of social networking, and Brooklyn transplants Colin and Andrea Wohl Keefe are fully embracing this fact for their inaugural show. The couple are using the carriage house of their Mount Airy home as an informal exhibition space. Their first show, called "and so on and so forth," started with the idea of working "with people you trust, and trust them to make decisions you can believe in," says Colin.
And, check out this promising new gallery–Mount Airy Contemporary, in its innaugural show. Recent transplants to Philly, Colin and Andrea Keefe are trying to get something going in their neighborhood. We recognize some of the names in the group show and have high hopes.