In case you haven’t heard the word on Citywide Philly, November is high time to submerge and steep yourself in the collective minds of the Philadelphia artistic community through this month-long collaborative creative event, which also happens to be a Knight Arts grantee. Finding a starting point for Citywide, however, is perhaps easier said than done, so some good advice would be to just dive in headfirst.
At Marginal Utility, the group exhibition “North by Northwest” curated by Mount Airy Contemporary is as solid a place to start as any – full of two-dimensional works that range from the minimal, to the psychedelic and beyond. Despite sharing a name with the popular Hitchcock film, the exhibit bears this title due to Mount Airy’s northern and westerly skew from the center of the city.
Under such a practical banner as its trajectory, one would expect similar art, and although Marginal Utility is not bristling with quirky installations or other overly-conceptual concoctions, the works on display are anything but straightforward. Easily among the most visually stunning images in the show is Laura Watt’s “After Glow,” which is undeniably drug-induced, both in name and rendering. Like a hit of high quality blotter, one is suddenly (although temporarily) stuck in an event horizon of warping grids, wavy orange lines, and wild interference patterns.
The chunky, playful forms by Andrea Keefe are also quite noteworthy, especially since they offer some of the least flat, most object-like content in the show. Keefe’s only piece in the show is entitled “3D Thoughts (The Flowering Knocked Down Buildings),” and the faceted structures, rounded fixtures, and water droplets certainly offer the most physical dimensions on display. Colored in airy pastels and floating hazily across the white walls, this artist’s not-quite-Platonic-solid clouds lose exaggerated raindrops onto a tiny rectangular, abstract cityscape.
Andrea Hornick takes a more postmodern jaunt in her three paintings that place wild animals in historical portraits. Appearances by horned goats on either side of a Rothschild, and Ana French Reade cuddling reassuringly with a (probably seated) giraffe play on nonsensical pairings of nature and humankind. These relationships are difficult to understand in their absurdity, and in that sense, are not at all unlike the knowledge most of us possess about these names and faces from so long ago.
Daniel Oliva presents a pair of paintings in the same vein at Hornick, depicting the torsos and hands of humans holding a couple little critters – a squirrel and a bird. Their titles draw on such bizarrely unrelated cultural content as boxing in “Mike Tyson and Julius” and racial issues and topics of self defense in “Bernard Goetz and CP.” How exactly the titles fit with their respective paintings of tiny animals is anyone’s guess. As a result, these images are either the most absurd or the most esoterically conceptual of the entire exhibit.
For a modest show of predominantly painting, Mount Airy Contemporary’s guest curating at Marginal Utility provides a foothold for the Citywide project. At times visually complex and alluring, at others vague and peculiar, the artists of Mount Airy present a foundation of wall art for their south easterly neighbors on 11th Street and for Citywide Philly as a whole.
Marginal Utility is located at 319 N. 11th St., 2nd floor, Philadelphia; marginalutility.org.