There are no creatively costumed artists, no world-weary gallerists, and no well-heeled collectors prowling this unlikely art fair in the heart of Kensington. No entrance fees, no cafes, no art-magazine kiosks, no bars, either.
Indeed, "Unlisted," as befits its title, could be considered the un-art fair - the art fair that's strictly about the art. You may even find yourself alone with the art, as I did on two visits to the Icebox Project Space, where "Unlisted" holds court through Sept. 10.
The brainchild of Timothy Belknap and Ryan McCartney, curators of the Icebox Project Space, and Yuka Yokoyama and David Dempewolf, who run the exhibition space Marginal Utility, "Unlisted" comprises 13 small exhibitions, each organized by a Philadelphia artist, gallerist, or curator (or, in several cases, by more than one person). Their idea was to present an intergenerational fair that would illuminate the current state of Philadelphia's art scene, and they've mostly succeeded by choosing such a diverse group of pundits.
In one vast room, the pronounced proclivities of Amber Arts' Linda Fernandez, Keir Johnston, and Ernel Martinez; works curated by the Brandywine Workshop and Archives and José Ortiz-Pagan; Daniel Dalseth; Christopher Gianunzio; Kate Kraczon; Lord Ludd's Mylinh Nguyen and Gideon Barnett; Bree Pickering; Anthony Romero and Abigail Satinsky; Sid Sachs; Shelley Spector; Judith Tannenbaum; Nato Thompson; and Richard Torchia overlap, collide, joust, stand apart, coalesce, grate. It's occasionally difficult to tell where one exhibition ends and the next begins. And the opposite occurs here and there, too, when juxtapositions of disparate "booths" are jarring. In their design scheme for the fair, Belknap, McCartney, Yokoyama, and Dempewolf have contrived an uncannily accurate evocation of Philadelphia's itchy art world.
The pros - I'm speaking of the people who have made careers of organizing exhibitions - stand out, as of course they would. These are shows that could be transposed to any major art fair and stand out.
Independent curator Judith Tannenbaum's pairing of Philadelphian Rochelle Toner's small, abstract, whimsical watercolor drawings in the vein of the Chicago Imagists and Hawaiian-born Philadelphia artist Don Nakamura's big, gregarious ceramic sculptures, which employ the same graceful curvy lines and referential shapes as Toner's paintings, is a brilliant stroke.
The same goes for Arcadia University Art Gallery director Richard Torchia's choice of two monumental, multipanel, multicolored wall reliefs by Robert Younger, an artist who began his career in Philadelphia, spent more than two decades in New York, and now lives in Maine. Bypass #3 and Leaning Bypass #2 are somewhat reminiscent of Ellsworth Kelly's 1957 relief Sculpture for a Large Wall, which once hung in Philadelphia's Transportation Building (and is now in the Museum of Modern Art), and Donald Judd's painted aluminum wall sculptures, but they defy easy categorization.
Sid Sachs, director of the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery at the University of the Arts, has a grouping of works by Philadelphia artists that is one of the fair's more fascinating shows. It includes an interactive sculpture by the artist and inventor Remo Saraceni, who exhibited his artworks in Philadelphia museums and galleries in the 1970s, then leapt to fame as the designer of the gigantic keyboard for the 1988 film Big.
Shelley Spector, an artist and former gallery owner, put together one of the fair's most art-fair-worthy exhibitions, that of large figurative paintings by onetime Philadelphian Rebecca Westcott, who died in 2004 at 28. They recall Alice Neel's portraits. Spector's exhibition also includes paintings of mundane interiors by Sarah Schneider, a Baltimore artist, and found material constructions of recognizable utilitarian objects by Lydia Ricci, of Narberth and San Francisco.
Kate Kraczon, an ICA curator, offers the fair's most absorbing and disturbing piece, Philadelphia artist Tiona McClodden's installation of videos and photographs titled Be Alarmed: The Black American Epic, Movement I - The Visions, 2013-2014. Being exhibited here for the first time as a salon-style installation, McClodden's various videos show her and others in haunted scenes that mine her family history and also appear to have been shot in North Philadelphia.