Ostensibly, Pleased to Meet You introduces three new members of the collectively run gallery Napoleon to Philadelphia art lovers. But with a gallery space so intimate and works so disparate, the show feels just as much like a meet-and-greet between foreign objects as it does a salutation to the larger world.
Matt Ziemke’s delicate sculptures stretch shyly off the wall. Fabricated from ceramic, vinyl and wood, his brightly lacquered forms strike an unexpected balance between the handmade and the industrial. Conglomerate No. 2 (2012) fans out in all directions, yet manages to stay poised atop two tiny platforms. Pooling black ceramic paired with orange construction material riffs on oil spills and sites of massive global development; tire-track patterns stamped onto clay; and matchstick-thin scaffolding recall the ground and the structures we build and then leave behind. Another work, Oasis (2012), snakes up the wall like a Jacob’s Ladder, flipping between slick ceramic and pale wooden slats. Its sections seem interchangeable: Have they shifted themselves to get a better view of Christina P. Day’s curious blue suitcase sitting on a stand beside it?
Enter Blue Brick 45 (2012), a blue 45 case whose record player has been redecorated with vintage wallpaper. Like her other work in the show (a doctored Polaroid camera), Blue Brick 45 seizes the century-long prejudice against ornament in art and architecture by escalating the false schism between useful objects and superfluous decoration. “You think the decorative is useless?” Day seems to trill. “I’ll show you useless!” The result is a record player choked with floral wallpaper and a camera embalmed in house paint and chintzy trim. The white plinths Day uses to prop up her sculptures drive home the point: While stripped of their original function through decoration, both machines have gained higher status as art objects.
While Day’s objects threaten to explode in song, snap a candid photo or otherwise invade your privacy, Alexis Nutini’s prints keep to themselves. Voladores (2012) and Graft Hybrid ’s (2012) subtle ink patterns sink into the large oak panels on which they’ve been printed. Each monochrome pattern sits in relation to the next; earth tones and feathery lines flash for a moment, then recede into the natural grain of the wood, introducing an element of layered depth to an exhibition otherwise populated by seamless surfaces. If the show were a mixer, then Nutini’s work would be the wallflower: unostentatious, a little diffident, but looking with interest at the hubbub in the rest of the room.
Not that Nutini’s work has the self-conscious blush of the new kid on the block. In fact, Ziemke, Day and Nutini may be new to Napoleon, but they’re certainly not new to Philly. Each artist received degrees from Philadelphia art schools, and each has shown their work many times over on their home turf. Prior to joining the ranks of artists-who-run-galleries in the warehouse at 319 N. 11th St.—which also houses collectively run spaces like Vox Populi, Grizzly Grizzly, Tiger Strikes Asteroid and Practice—Ziemke, Day and Nutini were all professionally invested in the art community as educators. Ziemke is a current artist-in-residence at the Clay Studio; Day is a visiting assistant professor at the University of the Arts, and Nutini is an adjunct professor of printmaking at the Tyler School of Art. Compared with fellow art scene newbie FJORD, whose members are all fresh out of art school, Napoleon is apparently chasing some fairly distinguished contributors. It’s nice to have variety, and Napoleon is stacking the odds with some well-known names. Professionally speaking then, Ziemke, Day and Nutini are well on their way, even if their objects are encountering each other at Napoleon for the first time.
Through Aug. 31. Napoleon, 319 N. 11th St. napoleonnapoleon.com
Calendar: Sept. 30-Oct. 7