Sunday, June 22, 2008

On Defense of the "Rocky Statue" Outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art

It's the eye of the tiger, it's the cream of the fight

The inspiration for this "essay" arrived after reading William Pym's "Vanishing Point" in the most-recent publishing of MegaWords Magazine. Towards the end of the essay which might be described as an argument for change (with heavy tinges of nostalgia) in the art world, Pym compares Social Consciousness, a Jacob Epstein sculpture of 1954 (located at the museum's western entrance), to the boxer statue to the right of the famous museum steps when you are facing the east entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Pym writes "It's [Social Consciousness] worth loving, though, as much as beefy Rocky is worth immediately vandalizing."

(Before I start down this path I'd like to say I like Pym's essay , which has all the loveliness of a meandering Sunday afternoon walk after drinking too much really good coffee. I agree with him about youth and art, but I don't think rock-star upstarts are a new thing. I think they have always been around and you can't stop youth from wanting life and wanting it fast. Art has always had a nasty habit of overlooking what is really good while the artist is still alive.)

I can't in all honesty argue for the aesthic beauty of the boxer statue (as I wouldn't for Social Consciousness), I do however, think it would be a travesty to deface it. To the majority of the persons who visit or live in Philadelphia the Philadelphia Museum of Art has no value besides the steps at it's eastern entrance. The reason these steps have meaning for so many is that a fictional boxer, played by Sylvester Stallone, and named Rocky Balboa, climbed them while training to achieve his goals in life. It is a film, that despite any short-comings as cinema, has inspired many.

Risin' up to the challenge of our rival

Now I want to tell you a story; I teach art classes through a non-profit program that serves many of Philadelphia's low-income public schools. During one of my residencies I was able to help facilitate a field trip to the PMA for a group of little 5th graders. This was a great bunch, but as you may expect from our city's public schools, not-so-well-behaved and segregated in the northeast--they didn't much make it out to the "nicer" parts of town. When we pulled up to the front steps of the art museum in our Yellow Bird every single one of those kids was excited. They exited the bus and ran up the steps in an ecclesiastical fervor, even the fat ones. It isn't easy to get that group of kids excited or united in a single purpose.

I think if you had asked them, many of the kids would admit to never having seen a Rocky movie, or ask you "What's that Miss?" That's the aura Rocky has given to the steps of the PMA. It's powerful. So powerful that when my mother came to visit me in Philadelphia for the first time (I'm from Ohio) she said the only thing that she really wanted to see were the steps Rocky ran up and did I know where to find those?

Is it such a bad thing? Do we, as artists, have to bemoan popular culture so much? Do we have to make serious all black boxes or sculptures of space aliens holding up malnorished men? Do these things really speak to people where it counts? I don't think the current trend, which is to embrace popular culture and mass appeal, is such a bad one. I think the trend exhibits an artist's willingness to be "real". I don't usually go here, but now I must; most people in this world don't have time to wail about what's happening to art or even about social unjustice, most people need a way to pull themselves out of the gutter.

Social Consciousness

And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night

Whatever I may think of Rocky or his short-comings as a role-model there is no doubt that the metaphor of climbing a large amount of steps to reach your goal is a great one. The fact that (often unacknowledged) your goal is to reach the entrance of a wonderful collection of art, some of the best man has to offer, is even better.

Placing the boxer statue beside the steps might be a little over-the-top and unnecessary (and yes, it is basically, an ad for a movie, but since when are ads not art?) for those of us who have what is known among us as "good taste" but I'm willing to bet that to many people it's a reassuring marker that they have, indeed, reached the correct spot. That yes, they are at the steps Rocky surmounted and they too can now surmount the obstacle. If this statue is a form of thank you to the Rocky franchise then I think the franchise deserves it. Visiters to the shrine might even stroll around to the west entrance, avoiding wedding parties and various photo-ops as they go, and accidentally happen upon Social Consciousness as I did with a friend visiting from Kentucky. If you are into art and you read up on it a little you might enjoy Social Consciousness and give it total nerd points, but if you are like my friend you might simply proclaim "That's depressing."

In closing, think what you want. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all of that, but don't vandalize the Rocky statue. That's just wrong.

And he's watchin' us all in the eye of the tiger

Saturday, June 21, 2008


From an Interview with Man Man on Pitchfork:

Sergei Sogay: The last band that I saw that really impressed me was Paper Napkin. They were fucking great, dude.

Pitchfork: Where was that?

Sergei Sogay: A place in Philly called the Copy Gallery.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Born to Be Wild and a Public Service Announcement

Nick Paparone and Jamie Dillon on "Born to Be Wild", which will be part of the Abington Sculpture Park for at least two years.

On Sunday I helped fellow Copy gallerists Nick Paparone and Jamie Dillon christen their new outdoor sculpture, Born to Be Wild at Abington Art Center's Sculpture Park. Born to Be Wild is a great hairy mound of dirt and grass with a bell on top of it that brings to mind games like "king of the hill" or that weird sense of achievement you get from walking up an incline of some sort. The bell works as an affirmation of your achievement, an audible "I was here".

It occurred to me that I ought to mention going out to Abington as a day trip that will help you beat the summer heat. The sculpture park is in a beautiful woods with lots of tree coverage. Trees provide much needed oxygen and shade that you don't really get from the City of Philadelphia.

Sylvia Benitez's "Hatshepsut" is among the many sculptures also on view at the park

Art and Danny DeVito clash at First Friday Happenings

First Friday at Copy and Vox was a little crazier then usual this month. When I arrived at our space (Copy) I noticed all these little pink notices everywhere; seems the street outside was going to be used to film an episode of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia". I immediately felt sorry for the film crew, they were probably expecting a deserted industrial street and weren't prepared to shoot opposite a major rager, which is what the night turned out to be:

Vox was hosting a major group show, "Solid Gold" and we proudly presented the work of Julio C. Gonzalez (read more here), which I can safely call awesome because I had nothing what-so-ever to do with the setting up of it, it was all Julio and Luren Jenison.

Juilo's spinning television and light-up drum-set installation at Copy.

Luren Jenison (curator) and Julio C. Gonzalez (artist).

Whilst waiting for someone to show up and play Julio's light-up drum set I read the new Megawords (more on that later) and looked out Vox's window to where's waldo Danny Devito. I found him, along with the dude that plays Dennis, but was too lazy to go down the street for a closer look.

The new Megawords (free)

Danny DeVito and Glen Howerton from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"

It was fun going back and forth between the sitcom filming outside and Julio's drum-set inside:

The machinery that made Julio's device work was visible in the Store at Copy.

Julio and the weird guy.

Eventually this weird-guy with a portable electric guitar rig came and jammed out with Julio. Which was great until he headed over to Screening at Vox:

. . . Where he and his flute friend went a little wild. At Screening they were screening Primordial Soup, an early building block of video-art-history by George Stadnik, which probably deserved a little more respect then the wild musicians were showing it.

The night ended strangely as the sitcom crew kept giving all the art-folks a hard time for making noise up on the 3rd floor balcony. . . but it was all over without any bloodshed.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Two new stories:

On Trenton Doyle Hancock at the ICA: TDH review


The South Philly Biennial (sort-of, but more of a tour of Philadelphia): A TOUR OF PHILLY