Those who visited the Institute of Contemporary Art’s One Is the Loneliest Number exhibit this summer had the chance to see something that is rarely visible in museum spaces anymore: a cool space to just sit, read and relax. No advertisements, no overpriced catalogs pushed at you. Just a few chairs and well-worn photography magazines to peruse while you soak in the show: casually strewn West African fabric patterns, neon-colored graphics, old Leicas, cassette mixtapes and whatever else they’d set up in the museum’s loft space.
Anthony Smyrski and Dan Murphy made that happen. Most known for their gritty, ad-free and nearly wordless magazine Megawords —which serves as a medium to experiment with their ideas and be free of commercialization—the pair aren’t just concerned with the art you consume, but the way in which you consume it. For the past three years, the guys have been specializing in creating public spaces, literally bringing their printed project to life.
“A magazine can move,” Murphy says. “It’s a physical object, you can take it to any place, any time, and have so many different people access it, and that was very important to what we were trying to do.”
The public projects that Megawords have created in recent years speak to this initial goal of publicizing art, and making it a culturally engaging and enriching experience for all involved. In September 2008, they temporarily set up shop in an old storefront in Chinatown as an all-purpose arts space, curating temporary exhibits, screening films and hosting musical performances. Last year, they set up a Megawords newsstand on the corner of 27th and Girard, where readers could pick up copies of the zine, but also speak directly with Murphy and Smyrski about their motives and inspirations. This year, they screened an art film in an old Kensington lot.
“One of our goals [with these projects] was to set an example to show that we need free spaces like this where you can experiment that’s not based around retail,” Murphy says. “Kids need a place to go break windows or be creative. We need more space that’s not a bar, not a club, not a gallery.”
More recently, the guys have focused their energy on Kensington, pushing neglected areas to the forefront of residents’ minds and creating a world in which art is taken out of its privileged gallery context. At the end of July, Smyrski and fellow artist Matthew Gallagher spearheaded a cleanup project on Silver Street, only a mile or so from Smyrski’s childhood stomping grounds, turning a corner usually littered with drug addicts into a beautifully painted sitting area that residents can actually enjoy. “Stuff like this lets us make that one-on-one connection [with people from the neighborhood],” Smyrski says. “I think these unexpected interventions or outbursts can always make people think. We like to put ourselves out there to get us to engage with them.”
“It’s nice to get people from the neighborhood to see films that they normally wouldn’t or couldn’t get a chance see,” Smyrski continues, “and to get fans of our work to come out to a place that they normally wouldn’t come to. For many people living in Center City, it’s like [Kensington] is not even there.”
For more information about Megawords and its projects, visit megawordsmagazine.com.
Certain Things at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery
Dan Murphy’s current solo show, while created in isolation from Megawords, finds Murphy doing a similar ideological exercise: creating new spaces in which objects, people and ephemera can exist and be recontextualized. “It’s about these aesthetically perfect things—that’s the loose theme of the show,” he says. “So maybe I don’t have access to a certain car or a certain piece of vintage clothing, but in those cases I’ve made pieces about these things.” (D.W.)
Through Dec. 4. Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, 1616 Walnut St. 215.545.7562. fleisher-ollmangallery.com
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