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Gallery-Hopping in Old City

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For this week’s piece, I tried venturing outside my regular streak of museum exhibitions and visited a few galleries on North Second Street in Old City. Maybe you already know about this Philadelphia neighborhood, a lively trove of art, food, and history, but it was my first time visiting. To be perfectly honest, I always feel slightly out of place in neighborhoods like Old City, namely because of the bougie parts. A Roche Bobois (a high-end French designer furniture store), farm-to-table restaurants, and Yoga studios attended almost exclusively by white women are just a few things that tune me into this. Last Saturday, however, when I visited the galleries, I was pleasantly surprised and relieved by the cordial nature with which I was received. Everyone I met in the galleries, whether they were an artist or curator, was excited to talk about the art with me.

I’ve gone gallery-hopping in Chelsea, Manhattan, and you can always make a day out of it. The best part about these smaller galleries in Chelsea and Old City is that they are not only concentrated in one area, but they also do not charge for admission! Visiting these galleries is an excellent way to expose yourself to new artists you have never heard of, or see new work by artists you do know. It’s always ever so slightly draining, mentally and physically, but you can look at so, so much art in one day without paying a dime. It is, of course, difficult to forget about money entirely with the occasional price tag in commercial galleries artists have to make a living too!

This week, I chose to focus on two galleries that are actually located right across the street from one another: Muse Gallery and Larry Becker Contemporary Art Gallery. Right now, both galleries have contemporary abstract paintings on view, which might make them worthwhile to visit in tandem.

Founded in 1978, Muse Gallery is actually an artists’ cooperative, meaning it is run by and exhibits the same practicing artists without ties to a larger institution or corporation (like a museum). The cooperative was initially established with feminist underpinnings, which persist to this day with 18 of the 19 artists in the cooperative identifying as women. Currently on view until April 30th is “Disturbance in the Color Field,” a solo exhibition of Diane Lachman’s new paintings.

Lachman works in oil, watercolor, and acrylic, with some of her wooden panel paintings bordering on sculpture. Her paintings focus on color and explore it as a means of communication through abstract and geometric shapes. These shapes bear few if any ties to observable realities. The wonderful thing about color is that you don’t need to study art for years to appreciate it, so shows like this have the potential to be enjoyable for a lot of visitors. My personal favorites of the show were her watercolors; there’s something about the soft, ethereal fields of different hues that pleases my eye (and heart, honestly), something that’s innate to the medium of watercolor itself.

But others may find Lachman’s acrylic or oil on wood paintings more interesting, which, for me, evoke nostalgic memories of colorful wooden toy blocks. These oil on wood paintings, likely from her Color Chords series, apply concepts of musical expression and composition to painting and color. On her artist website, she writes about this series and the application of music theory.

“Like musical chords, where tension between different tones is resolved by their participation in the whole, I strive to compose harmonious paintings by carefully selecting color notes. I search for an exquisite chord that transcends the individual notes until I find the visual perfect pitch,” writes Lachman.

Muse Gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday, from noon to 5pm. If you are interested, the gallery will also be holding a reception celebrating the show on April 23 from 2p.m to 5p.m during which you can meet Lachman and the other artists in the cooperative!

Across the street from Muse Gallery is Larry Becker Contemporary Art Gallery. I was drawn to this gallery by the colorful Thornton Willis painting, “Stepover,” hanging near the window, having just looked at Lachman’s show. Upon entering, I was pleasantly surprised by the worn wooden floor (most galleries have this austere sterility to them, but not this one) and the gallery owners’ cat. The gallery’s current show “18: Six Artists [Some Paintings]” exhibits the work of Willis, John Zinsser, Peter Tollens, Tim Schwartz, Steve Riedell, and Marcia Hafif. There are 18 paintings, three per artist. This show will be up until May 6, and the gallery is always open Friday and Saturday from 11a.m to 5p.m.

I didn’t get to spend as much time as I wanted looking at the art, yet I distinctly remember each of these 18 paintings, which speaks to how memorable these works were. Willis and Hafif have been painting since the 1960s, with the other artists having worked for at least thirty to forty years, so in their newer work exhibited here, I felt I could see the honing of each artist’s style of investigation. Some artists are more concerned with color, like Hafif, while others seem to focus more on the materiality of paint, like Zinsser. The juxtaposition of these works with slightly different foci, however, allows us to compare what the various artists have done with the paint, and prod at the question of why they each did what they did. In sum, while this show exhibits artists some people may never have seen or heard of before, it also allows for individuals more familiar with the artists and their work to engage with the show as well. It’s fun for newcomers, but not boring for connoisseurs, in other words.

There are so many other little galleries to check out on North Second Street that I haven’t covered here, like Twelve Gates Art Gallery, 3rd Street Gallery, The Clay Studio Gallery, Pentimenti Gallery, and many more. I definitely recommend making a trip to Old City for these fun little art galleries. Go see this!

March First Friday

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On the first Friday of every month, galleries around Third Street in Philadelphia open up for free and feature special exhibits. “First Friday” is a public event that takes places in various cities around the United States on the first Friday of each month, bringing artists together around the country. First Friday started in Philadelphia in 1991 as an effort to host a collaborative open house in Old City and has now expanded to several bars, restaurants, and vintage stores.There is always something new to look at as you hop between galleries, the only common theme between the galleries being that they are all free and in Old City. Most of the events for the night happen along Third Street, making it easy to wander from gallery to gallery.

I started my night  with a small gallery featuring several paintings that were made to look as if they were stained glass. The artist, Rae Chichilnisky, used a relief outliner, similar to puffy paint,  to outline objects in her paintings. The relief outliner, which added an extra dimension to the painting as it popped off the canvas, made the paintings resemble stained glass.

The Center for Art in Wood was our next destination. The gallery was participating in “Small Favors: Think Inside the Box,” a series with The Clay Studio. The gallery featured a plethora of impressive pieces ranging from things as practical as an ice cream scooper to a wooden sculpture that resembled a tornado. Hanging above the opening to the main gallery space was a sculpture of a life size meteor that was illuminated from within. Attached to the meteor was a swarm of butterflies with wings made of laser cut wood.

The gallery was filled with people of all ages wandering around and commenting on the pieces. I was impressed at every turn and appreciated the volunteers that pointed out small but extraordinary details about each piece. One volunteer brought our attention to a wooden blanket that was made of delicately made wooden triangles glued to a silk screen. She sharedour awe and appreciation for the time and skill that went into the displayed piece.

The Third Street Gallery continually participates in First Friday. This Friday they featured ink drawings from Matthew Hall. “Fabricating Nostalgia,” the exhibit in the gallery, featured beautifully drawn scenes that demonstrated the complexity of everyday moments. He also shared the gallery with a photographer, Keith Sharp, who featured a collection of photos of scenes around Media, PA.

The Jessica Eldrige Studio was one of many participants in “First Friday”and presented a unique twist on how guests interacted with the exhibit. The gallery invited guests to bring any object that could fit into a zip-close bag. Then when guests arrived at the gallery, they could trade their item for one of the small pieces produced by the artist, Aly Giantisco.

In addition to the various galleries that were open, the night also featured a free concert at the Christ Church Neighborhood House. The Poor Richard’s Chamber Music Society played renditions of Bartok, Meyer, and Brahms’ to add to the First Friday festivities.

In addition to wandering through galleries and listening to music, there are several restaurants that participated in First Friday. Baril, a French restaurant known for their seafood, features their incredible traditional soup plate with a live performance by the jazz band, Drew Nugent and the Midnight Society. If you’re still thirsty and/or looking for First Friday specials, Olde Bar is the place to end your night. For First Friday, they featured a cocktail special called For Whom the Bell tolls.

The next First Friday will happen on April 7th and the list of events, participating galleries, restaurants and stores will be available online through visitphilly.com’s First Friday section. As the weather warms up the amount of participants will only increase, so it will become more exciting and fun.

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