The recently relocated Philadelphia Sculpture Gym is beginning to thrive at its new home on Frankford Avenue in Fishtown. This Knight Arts grantee began its move back in March after receiving a $20,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant in 2011. In the works for the new location are gallery space, lockers, a large work area with equipment for working in a variety of mediums, a lounge and an outdoor sculpture garden.
Run by Philadelphia artist couple Darla Jackson and Justin Grant, the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym aims to offer up a safe space for artists to work on projects in a group setting, much like people utilize regular gyms for exercise. As an independent sculptor, the costs of putting together a studio can be extremely prohibitive, especially at the beginning of one’s career. Table saws, metalworking equipment, and storage space can be pretty big ticket items, but through the Sculpture Gym, they are accessible to members for use in their projects.
In the front space of the former auto shop turned sculpture studio there is a partitioned area which serves as a gallery. Not only may artists work and store their art, but this addition makes it possible to display work as well, effectively allowing the Sculpture Gym to provide for a complete artistic process from production to exhibition.
Currently the gallery is showcasing work by artists who utilize some form of casting in their creations. First noticeable through the front door is what appears to be the head of a taxidermy horse. Since this sculpture by Stephanie Koenig is life size and quite realistic, it could easily be mistaken for an actual horse head if not for the label which details its materials: flocking, cast polyurethane foam, hair extensions, glass eyes and epoxy.
Nathaniel Mell has a piece sprawling across the floor which also demands attention. The cast concrete head of a man sits, mouth agape, with a thick, winding rope pouring from its mouth. This image verges on the grotesque, but mostly exudes a strong humanism. Its name “Manifestation” implies the process of creation, and it seems a very fitting – if surreal – testament to the Sculpture Gym’s mission.
Metal castings by Gustavo Actis are wild looking industrial contraptions appearing either very ancient or from sometime far in the future. In one sculpture, a skull wears a crown or helmet made up of circuits and mysterious parts. It seems more functional than decorative, but its ultimate purpose remains a mystery. Another work by Actis is a similar device encased in a glass capsule. It is reminiscent of a vacuum tube from an old television set, but it sits enshrined atop a wooden pyramid giving it an air of importance. Perhaps the technology of the recent past will one day reside in museums in a similar way.
With a strong show and an ambitious project space on their hands, the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym is well on its way to becoming an integral part of the Philly art community. Check out their website for details about membership opportunities or classes and stop by the gallery to see more work.