There are hundreds of shows opening in Philadelphia this fall, and not nearly enough room to mention everything worthwhile. We’ve chosen six shows that are sure to be particularly great, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
Nowhere at Arcadia (Sept. 23-Nov. 7. arcadia.edu)
Remember that map you drew on a napkin to direct a friend to your house? Its cousin, created in necessity and collected by the Hand Drawn Map Association, will be appearing in Nowhere at Arcadia University Art Gallery. HDMA—an idiosyncratic Lancaster group newly relocated to Philadelphia—rescues the hand-drawn cartographic output as an archive of how we see the world in lines, symbols, street names and X-marked spots. Some of these maps are primitive, looking like drawings on the Lascaux cave walls. Others have a looser connection to reality and are more like art or a book illustration.
Philadelphia Photo Art Day (Oct. 28. Exhibit opens Nov. 11. philaphotoarts.org)
Two public projects this fall embrace citizen participation and democratize art without eviscerating it. For the first, a SEPTA-related cell-phone video project, see D for DesignPhiladelphia on page 19 for more. For the other, Philadelphia Photo Art Center (PPAC) has organized Philly Photo Day. Take a picture of the city on Oct. 28 and submit it electronically to PPAC to have your shot printed and shown in an exhibit opening Nov. 11 at the Crane Art Center. Organizers are hoping to get hundreds, if not thousands, of photos describing the city, its people, animals, buildings, the sky above, the rivers, maybe even the dark side of trash, parking tickets, decrepit housing and homeless people. The pictures will be printed small, on 5-by-7 paper, and hung in a line running around the gallery like a third Philadelphia river.
Narcissus in the Studio at PAFA (Oct. 23-Jan. 2, pafa.org)
Playing into the idea that artists are among the most self-absorbed humans, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts opens an exhibition from its collection of artists’ self-portraits and portraits of friends. PAFA, with its history of figurative art, is rich in portraiture by major American artists like Charles Wilson Peale, Thomas Eakins, Vik Muniz, Elizabeth Osborne and James Brantley. Modern-art curator Robert Cozzolino, who organized the exhibit, has a track record of unearthing surprises from the museum’s storage vaults—look for some good ones here.
Hallowed Halloween at Proximity (Oct. 1-28. proximityart.com)
Last year’s show of Philadelphia illustrators and cartoonists of the Autumn Society at Proximity was a delight. This year, the Autumn Society and the Philadelphia Cartoonists Society join arms in a seasonal theme show of original works by more than 30 artists, with a little ghoul on the wall for every taste.
Alex Da Corte at Extra Extra (Nov. 5 through mid-December. eexxttrraa.com)
Da Corte’s found-object sculptures, shown at Fleisher-Ollman Gallery and many other places in Philadelphia, riff on aftermath. Colors that are too bright and shiny things that are too shiny recall the forlorn cleanup of the day after the party. The artist returns to Philadelphia with a Yale MFA and after shows in Boston and New York with new work, but the same sad outlook.
The Best of the Rest
The major museums continue to chart deep art-historical waters, and college galleries to pop out entertaining and worthy fare. DesignPhiladelphia has a number of other notable projects, including the interactive Virtual Public Art Program (see letter V, page 32). In the commercial galleries, newcomer Jolie Laide hatches an ambitious program mixing out-of-town artists with locals. Locks, Gallery Joe, Fleisher-Ollman, Gallery 339, Bridgette Mayer and Pentimenti, to name a few, continue their solid programs—look in particular for a great installation of drawings by Astrid Bowlby at Gallery Joe (Sept. 25-Nov. 13). And on the fringes of the alternative scene, Little Berlin’s BYOTYO artist’s book and zine fair (Sept. 26) is back with affordable reading matter and homebrew for all. -Roberta Fallon
Life, Keith Richards with James Fox (Oct. 26)
We would totally snort the ashes of Keith Richards in the unlikely event that something is able to actually kill the man. Anybody who knows anything about the band knows that it’s Keef who’s always been the coolest Stone: pithy, honest and just right the fuck on. So we can hardly wait to devour the 576 pages of Keith’s Life to get the inside scoop on pressing issues such as his relationship with the diabolically beautiful Anita Pallenberg, Canadian drug busts and bitch-fights with Mick. “I’ve been invented by the media,” he has said; “I’m just a minstrel.” Oh, but what a sexy minstrel you are, baby.
Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People, Amy Sedaris (Nov. 2)
The hostess with the leastest is back again, this time skipping cupcakes and truffles to focus on glue and popsicle sticks. Her reason? “Ugly people craft and attractive people have sex.” (Deep breath, and admit to yourself that your refutations are based on exceptions.) Sedaris promises to teach us crafts for moderns like seashell toilet bowl covers and crab-claw roach clips, which we enjoy thinking of as a meta-homage to Jerri Blank.
The Book of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks, Bethany Keeley (July 14)
This one came out in July, but is still too “perfect” not to recommend. A book mocking nonsensical, gratuitous use of quotation marks written by a “Ph.D. candidate” in “rhetoric” with a thing for indie rock bands with “animal names” and Christianity? Yes, please! Bonus points if you enjoy flipping through books commissioned from blogs all outwardly, “This is stupid! I can’t believe this is a book!” but inwardly seething with jealousy and thinking you could totally come up with one of those quirky zeitgeist-blog-turned-coffee-table-book-reviewed-in-alt-weeklies, except that you, you know, have a “real” job.
Freedom: A Novel, Jonathan Franzen (Aug. 31)
Jonathan Franzen is the Arcade Fire of the literary world—digitally inescapable. He and his serious work are all up in your Facebook and Twitter streams and in your dentist’s office on the cover of Time magazine, and lately all over the Huffington Post, which has been chronicling the details of the clitterati’s beef with media for giving Franzen the wettest blowjob this side of Dallas. Summary: “It’s a masterpiece of American fiction.” It’s an Oprah’s book club pick. Obama got a copy. Read at once, then announce your having read it to the people in your life who still judge you on such things.
The Petting Zoo: A Novel, Jim Carroll (Nov. 4)
This is the first novel from late diarist Jim Carroll, street poet and author of The Basketball Diaries; he was working on it when he suffered a fatal heart attack at 60 last year. The novel focuses on a 38-year-old artist who, after shooting to the top of the New York City art world, has a nervous breakdown and goes soul-searching. It’s a thinly veiled roman à clef, of course, and one that should provide insight into the man once dubbed the new Rimbaud.
The Inferno: A Poet’s Novel, Eileen Myles (Nov. 30)
Eileen Myles is the new new Rimbaud, spitting out lines that readers can’t help but grab like monkey bars, one right after the other. Inferno is the poet’s novel-slash-memoir about a young girl coming of age in New York City when it was still cool and wide open to artists and freaks. “It was clear I could only venture into this world if I was alone—because if I had any friends at all they would just laugh at these weirdoes, but in New York I had committed myself to a life in which I had nothing better to do.”
Rat Girl: A Memoir, Kristin Hersh (Aug. 31)
In Rat Girl, Kristin Hersh of seminal art-rock band Throwing Muses mines a diary she kept when she was 18 to retell stories from one pivotal year of her life. She carves poetic, spectacular accounts of yanking songs out of the sludge of bipolar disorder, of stage fright and of living a precocious rock ’n’ roll life in a teenage chick band in New England, looking so young she’d get carded at her own show. For Throwing Muses fans and anyone interested in music history, it’s a must-read for her vivid accounts of songwriting alone. It’s also the perfect gift for the shocked teenage mom-to-be in your life, to let her know that you can have the kid and still be super badass awesome.
Autobiography of Mark Twain, Mark Twain (Nov. 15)
Honoring Twain’s request, the University of California Press is publishing the first three volumes of Twain’s autobiography this fall. From The New York Times: “‘From the first, second, third and fourth editions all sound and sane expressions of opinion must be left out,’ Twain instructed them in 1906. ‘There may be a market for that kind of wares a century from now. There is no hurry. Wait and see.’” The proof will be in the pudding, but I don’t think Twain’s ever been wrong before. -Tara Murtha
Community Arts Festival
For one afternoon, Crane Arts will transform its grown-up Fishtown space into a kid-compatible, arts-and-crafts jamboree to benefit local arts programs for young’uns. Alongside perennial rugrat favorites—there’s no substitute for the high a 6-year-old gets when she’s flashing a face of painted-on whiskers and tiger stripes—the fest encourages sustainability as well as youthful creativity. The Philadelphia Water Department will present a workshop on how to make your own paper, and Multicultural Youth eXchange will show the wee ones how to upcycle discarded plastic into fabric—plus activities from more than 20 arts organizations from institutions like PAFA and Please Touch Museum to neighborhood nonprofits like Portside Arts Center and Greensgrow Farms. It’s a far cry from the bottles-full-of-colored-sand of yore. -Alexandra Jones
Oct. 17. 11am. Crane Arts Building, 1400 N. American St. 215.232.3203. cranearts.com
DesignPhiladelphia (Oct. 7-17, designphiladelphia.com) arrives with about 150 exhibits, talks, panels and events sprinkled around town in a 10-day celebration of the sleek, the efficient and the sustainable— a festival marking the city’s status as a leader in design.
The 6-year-old festival, co-founded by Hilary Jay and administered by the University of the Arts, has had its ups and downs—losing its previous venue at Philadelphia University a few years back only to find a new home at UArts, known for its industrial-design programs focusing on sustainability. Last year, DesignPhiladelphia had 135 exhibitors, and this recession year Jay expected half that turnout—only to have the number of exhibitors go up, with the added bonus of finding a sponsor in Philadelphia’s new art czar, Gary Steuer, and his Office of Arts and Culture.
There’s too many things affiliated with the festival to mention them all, so let’s take a look at one of the standouts: the nocturnal public-art venture Philadelphia Underground Video Installation (Oct. 8-11). This program of moving images projected on the bare walls of the pedestrian concourse under Dilworth Plaza near City Hall is a refreshing take on Philly’s mural tradition.
The underground installation was organized by Marianne Bernstein, who during last year’s DesignPhiladelphia festival curated the Welcome House (a 10-by-10 glass-walled structure erected in Love Park for a couple of weeks in which various artists, passers-by and park denizens made art), and she’s clearly a woman with a vision and an ability to get things done—even getting the city to approve their underground opening party (Oct. 9, 7-10pm) under City Hall, which will be hosted and emceed by Mike P, founder of Making Time.
As for the video pieces themselves, Diedra Krieger’s citizen-participation piece MoVid gathers cell-phone videos made by SEPTA commuters documenting the city’s underground caverns, screechy-braked subway cars and people of all shapes and sizes. The installation can be seen as a technological take on Seurat; low-resolution cell-phone videos take on a pointillistic cast when blown up on the wall—dots of light and color up close resolving into an image at a distance. One clip captures a man eating a bag of sunflower seeds and spitting out the casings around him—anyone who rides the train regularly is familiar with the aftermath, but it’s fun to see one of the culprits on candid camera.
David Kessler’s video near the waterfall fountain superimposes footage of the industrial concourse space itself with scenes of the opulent interior of the Academy of Music ballroom, with a waterfall of milk showering down from its crystal chandeliers, a contrast to the blue water in the City Hall fountain.
The Underground Video Installation is just one of dozens and dozens of mostly free exhibitions, events and installations that are part of DesignPhiladephia. Don’t miss the exhibit of Philly-made design objects on display at PhillyWorks at Penn’s School of Design for the whole festival, and think about taking advantage of the more serious parts of the festival. There’s opportunities to visit architecture and design studios and go to lectures about design—and the town hall meeting (Oct. 12) on moving from talking about sustainability to actually doing something about it could actually be not only interesting, but important for the city’s future. -Roberta Fallon
“We had issues with folks thinking they were funny robots like that inane MST3K TV show, which meant ding-dongs talking to the movie screen,” says Exhumed Films cofounder Joseph A. Gervasi of the series’ very first screening, back in 1997. “We put that shit to a stop straight away.”
Nowadays, fans of gory, obscure film pack the house at Exhumed screenings—more than 350 tickets for their fourth 24-hour Halloween-weekend marathon (Oct. 30-31) sold out months before the event—and they’re coming for love, not irony.
The brainchild of four friends who wanted to see two gory Italian horror films they loved on the big screen, Exhumed Films has been screening horror movies in Philly for over a decade, with a focus on showing films that the audience might otherwise not get a chance to see. When it was founded, there was no Netflix, no Napster (that debuted in 1999, if you can believe it) and DVDs were still uncommon. Options for lovers of non-mainstream film of any genre were few: You could seek out crappy bootleg VHS tapes several generations from the source, or, if you were lucky, someone in your area would have both the savvy and dedication to run a film series for fellow genre-lovers.
Happily, the Exhumed founders of had both. Gervasi’s experience booking hardcore punk shows helped get them into their first venue, and the positive response to the first screening (aside from the Tom Servo-wannabes) led them to continue bringing the obscure gore.
Over the years, Exhumed has packed local theatres for presentations of Friday the 13th: 3D and visiting luminaries like Bruce Campbell, who was in town for a convention and whom Gervasi recalls as pure delight to work with, staying and signing things—including breasts—until about five in the morning. “His running commentary up in the projection booth was priceless,” says Gervasi. “Even when we realized we could pay him more, he didn’t take the money, as he liked what we were doing.”
The fourth year of Exhumed Films’s nonstop gorefest includes over a dozen features interspersed with trailers, shorts and cinematic oddities picked with an eye for balancing the classic and the obscure. Gervasi is steadfast about keeping this year’s selections cloaked in mystery, but drops a hint about one movie, requested since the dawn of Exhumed Films, that they’ve been unable to get the rights to until this year. The only thing he’ll say is that “it’s the most requested film that we’ve never screened.”