Under I-95, Art For All One Last Time

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Photo: Michael Bryant/Philadelphia Inquirer

It's the end for the House of Strauss.
Sunday afternoon under I-95, across the street from the South Philadelphia Target, photographer Zoe Strauss held the 10th – and last – of her annual shows. I love Strauss’ work. There’s a Diane Arbus element to it – an attraction to humankind in various states of disrepair. Strauss, though, perhaps has a deeper love for her subjects than Arbus, a cheering-on quality that shines through. She’s not judging them or exploiting them; she’s giving them a chance to explain themselves, uncomfortable as some of the stories may be.
But the thing about Strauss that was particularly striking Sunday – the thing I’m sorry to see go - was the unusual egalitarianism of these annual events. Encounters with art often means some distance – the price of admission, the sharp elbows of fellow art lovers – between you and the thing you came to see. But for free, you could walk an unexpected place and gaze at a couple of hundred photographs. For $5, you could walk away with a signed Strauss. Hugs and kisses from the photographer, no extra charge.
That’s what hundreds did Sunday. The lines were long, but once you got up to Strauss’ table, she showered her unconditional exuberance upon you.
The personality is part of the experience, no doubt. But there was a vibe to the entire experience that the art world could use a lot more of. It said, “This is about art, not money, not credentials. And it’s for everyone.”
At 4 p.m., when the show ended, Strauss did what she always did: let visitors peel off a favorite shot from a cool concrete pillar, and take it home.
And that was that.