Monday, September 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Art: Designing duo's delightful show

Gallery: Art: Designing duo's delightful show

On its face, an exhibition of graphic design doesn't sound like something that could be thoroughly captivating, yet "Double Portrait" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art has that effect from the moment one crosses the threshold.

The sitters for this "portrait" are two respected design-world figures, Seymour Chwast and Paula Scher, a married couple whose careers run on parallel tracks.

Chwast (pronounce the Ch as K) is a gifted illustrator and storyteller whose drawings often express a quirky sense of humor. Scher is a typographic wizard who transforms fonts into some of the liveliest graphic presentations you'll ever encounter.

They don't collaborate, except that they did on the lively design of this show in the Perelman building. They have bisected the room on its long axis. Stand on one side and look at one long wall covered with posters and all you see is his work. Cross to the other side, turn around, and you see hers.

The two long walls are covered frame to frame with posters that reveal, in each case, a fecund and restless imagination that never settles into a predictable groove. The variety and virtuosity on both sides of the room are extraordinary and continually engaging.

There's a video station in the center at which both Chwast and Scher hold forth on how they think and work, he in an extended disquisition, she in several presentations to groups.

There's considerable wisdom and humor in these videos, which are iPad-interactive. Both are worth watching all the way through, something I rarely do myself or recommend.

The most important thing one takes away from "Double Portrait" is a respect for what people like Chwast and Scher do. They make art that lives in real time, in real life, art seen on the fly that must be inspired to do its job effectively. Just about everything in this sparkling show fits that description.

Reading every day. A striking surge in attendance - 267 percent for the first 10 months of this year - has prompted the Reading Public Museum to open seven days a week beginning Jan. 2.

The museum, whose collections include both art and science, has been closed Mondays. New hours will be every day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission fees will rise Jan. 2, from $8 to $10 for general admission and from $5 to $6 for seniors, students, and children.

Since John Graydon Smith took over as director and CEO two years ago, the museum has worked to improve its audience appeal, particularly to families. During this fall, for example, a series of coordinated attractions representing both collections focused on animals.

The current art shows, "Animals in Art" and "Animals in Glass," continue through Jan. 13.

Barnes breakout. Lingering doubts that the Barnes Foundation has gone thoroughly mainstream have been dispelled by a recent announcement that the foundation will mount a special exhibition of Ellsworth Kelly wall sculptures next spring. It will open May 4 and run through the summer.

When the relocated foundation opened last May, I observed that the special exhibitions gallery was large enough for traveling shows. The Kelly exhibition isn't rented, however; it will be home-grown.

Kelly's art doesn't connect to the Barnes collection in any obvious way, but it does extend the artist's presence at the new location. A 40-foot-high Kelly sculpture called Barnes Totem was installed earlier this year near the museum entrance.

The point, however, is not whether Kelly relates but, now that the buzz from last spring's opening has subsided, that his show gives the Barnes a fresh attraction.

The late art historian Leo Steinberg, who taught for 16 years at the University of Pennsylvania, once observed to me that static museum collections like that of the Barnes often have trouble attracting return visits.

As mainstream art museums have long understood, they must display a constantly changing marquee to capture and maintain public interest. "You need things you can advertise," Steinberg said.

The Kelly show appears to be the first such marketing opportunity for the Barnes in what will likely become a series of attempts to encourage revisits while moving its collection forward in time.

I wonder how the Art Museum feels about having a modern-contemporary competitor pop up right down the block.

What I meant to say . . . Several weeks ago, in commenting on the exhibition "The Female Gaze" at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, I offered an observation that, in retrospect, needs clarification.

I noted that collector Linda Lee Alter appears to have acquired work by just about all the prominent local female artists who had solo shows in the city while she was forming her collection. "At least I can't think of anyone she missed," I opined.

I was thinking "painters and sculptors" when I wrote that, but failed to specify. It was subsequently pointed out to me that she did miss many prominent women, those who work in traditional craft media.

As "The Female Gaze" indicates, Alter doesn't appear to have foraged extensively in this area, which is her prerogative.

I can, however, think of a number of top-rank craft-media artists she missed. Consequently, her collection lacks balance as far as local female artists are concerned.

There is some crafted art in the show, but considering that Alter herself once made fiber art, there's far less than one would expect.

 


Art: If You Go

"Double Portrait," through April 14 in the Perelman building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Fairmount and Pennsylvania Avenues.

Hours: 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays.

Admission: $10 general, $8 for seniors (65 and older), $7 for students with ID and visitors 13-18.

Information: 215-763-8100, www.philamuseum.org.


Contact Edward J. Sozanski at edward.sozanski@gmail.com

Edward Sozanski Contributing Art Critic
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