Local multimedia artist Candy Coated isn’t one to do anything half-assed. If you give her a blank wall, she’s going to design the city’s first screen print decoupage mural. If she’s going to host a fashion show in the middle of Rittenhouse Square, she’s going to have models painted up as cats, strutting around in a 30-yard patchwork of skirts. And if you invite her to conceive an exhibition around the Art Museum’s collection of children’s fancy dress costumes, well, then she’s going to create CandyCoated Wonderland, a display so unapologetically ornate that it completely consumes the Perelman Building’s Joan Spain Gallery and all those within it.
“This is prime real estate we’re talking about,” Candy jokes. “When people go in, I want them to be like, ‘Whoa.’ I want you to disappear for a little bit in the environment.”
If the seemingly endless layers of quirky creations aren’t enough to overwhelm you, then there’s a funhouse mirror stationed in the corner arbitrarily placing you at the center of her wonderland while intentionally distorting your reality.
Though the exhibit is divided into three disparate parts, the featured costumes grouped by general themes, with a mix of vinyl decals, paintings, silk-screened fabrics and glistening ceramic wall gems stretching from the floor up to ceiling, it all has a way of blending together. As you move through the space, paint splatter turns into flower petals, clusters of diamonds form flowers, the motionless, expressionless and whimsically dressed mannequins become characters in Candy’s storybook visual narrative—from Little Bo Peep and Little Lord Fauntleroy to a French peasant and an Austrian soldier. There’s even a pint-sized Peter Pan and a miniature George and Martha Washington.
Ultimately, however, the lead role is reserved for Candy’s adopted kitten and muse KATZ!, whose furry face is plastered everywhere you look, and all for a good cause: The artist donates a portion of the proceeds from her various KATZ!-featured merchandise—including the pillows displayed in the exhibit and on sale in the museum gift shop—to local animal shelters.
As out of place as this wildly ornate display looks inside the pristine art institution—especially just down the hall from a collection of Spanish and Portuguese colonial art—it all makes sense when you realize it was actually commissioned as part of Art Splash, the Art Museum’s summer series of family-friendly exhibits, interactive art and play zones and daily programs.
A life-long lover, creator and champion of decorative culture, Candy has taught at most of the city’s art schools, but prefers one-on-one private silk-screening lessons, whether it be with adults or children, in her Old City studio or the mini studio she’s set up on the back of her pimped-out tricycle. Befittingly, on July 17, she’ll be leading a bike-decorating workshop for kids during the museum's "Pay What You Wish" night.
Having taken four assistants and more than a year to assemble, Candy’s Wonderland is technically her most complicated project to date, but it’s certainly not her last or longest. “I’m the kind of person that works on something for 20 years but doesn’t tell anybody,” she says.
In addition to having just completed her first large-scale, nature-inspired mural with the Mural Arts Program and students at the Laura Waring School in Fairmount, Candy has also recently collaborated with the founders of Little Baby’s Ice Cream to concoct her own flavor of vegan ice cream dubbed “Jazzmarnier.” So, if you think her exhibit is interesting, just wait till you have a CandyCoated Wonderland in your mouth.
Through Nov. 17. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Perelman Bldg., 2525 Pennsylvania Ave. 215.763.8100. philamuseum.org