A show pairing artists from Philly and Baltimore lacks creativity and focus.
Philadelphia, a city perennially trying to keep it real, takes some cues from Baltimore and vice versa. Their DIY art scenes are congruent, both based around grimy neon-laden warehouses, factories and living rooms purporting themselves as galleries.
“Baltidelphia,” currently at My House Gallery in South Philly and Hexagon Space in Baltimore, celebrates the twin towns by pairing 22 artists from each. The teams, selected by curators Alex Gartelmann and Phuong Pham, were given three months to collaborate on a project.
Though teamwork was the theme, there is a surprising lack of chumminess in the show that stems from inconsistent communication between the artists. For many pairs, contact ceased after a few initial emails. The result, says Gartelmann, was panic before the opening, with many of the artists floundering to find something to make. This feeling carries through to the work, much of which is simply documentation of the communication in lieu of creative, well-thought-out artwork.
Take, for example, Masha Badinter’s drawings of emails between herself and partner Sean Scheidt and the framed printouts of Gmail chats and Facebook comments between Megan Lavelle and Jen Gin. There’s an earnest attempt at artistic integrity through personalizing technological interaction. But getting meta doesn’t mean getting conceptual. The aesthetic choices by the artists—which Gmail theme they chose, for example—aren’t intellectually satisfying.
Beth Heinly and Rick Royer’s piece is more subversive as it wades through the digital awkwardness. The installation consists of printouts from a Flickr photostream pinned on the wall and involves dizzying layers of technology. The pictures were appropriated, altered, Photoshopped, Google Voiced, uploaded and finally favorited. The pictures themselves aren’t anything special, but the piece shines in clunky confusion.
There are other pieces that hint at multi-step process, at effort, at concept. Daniel Petraitis’s masterful metal sculpture glorifies the lowly broom. While the piece isn’t necessarily collaboration in the traditional sense of the word, since Petraitis sculpted it alone, it is simply masterful work.
Jim Grilli and Emily Claire Dierkes’s piece worked in the puritan sense. They mailed a painting back and forth for months, and the result of their diligent, incremental changes is, unsurprisingly, a finished piece.
Daniel Potterton plays with the very notion of collaboration in his installation. Though the work was executed solely by Potterton, it is an imitation of his partner Kathleen Mazurek’s aesthetic with materials she sent him. These works distinguish themselves.
Despite its attempted sincerity, “Baltidelphia,” feels overwhelmingly like the detritus of failed partnership. The show strives to unite artists and could’ve been interesting if the geographic differences had actually been, well, different. The choice to join Baltimore artists with Philadelphians is not particularly inspired since the resulting work is nearly indecipherable. The 44 artists, though technically strangers, are all young and energetic. They come from the same demographic and share cultural touchstones. They’re the very audience to which My House Gallery and Hexagon Space cater.
Based solely on artistic merit, the show is unfulfilling, boasting works in progress. But as a presentation of a single community, “Baltidelphia” succeeds. It’s an acknowledgement of the togetherness of DIY artists, who share faults and a relentless spirit to bring alternative art to the world, one living room at a time. ■
Through Feb. 7. My House Gallery, 2534 S. Eighth St. myhousegallery.wordpress.com
Calendar: Sept. 30-Oct. 7