Contrary to popular belief, I am not a Philaphobe, though my criticisms of the art scene here may seem to indicate that. Watching the recent, swift and successful aquisition of Eakin’s Gross Clinic by the city was mystifying. It was as if the city’s honor was at stake. Perhaps it was, but it is this blind affection for the past that confuses me. Eakins is OK, but is it not time for a new art hero? And I don’t think the Rocky Statue qualifies. It is not that I want to appear the snob, but I can’t see how any of this connects with the making of a viable contemporary art scene. Now, old traditions are fine. That is what gives a place its own identity and many places have none. Philly has plenty of identity. At times we wallow in it and wish very hard for it to be mythic in scale. Unfortunately, by definition, the contemporary has nothing to do with “finding a cozy place like Philly to make your own,” unless you are a muralist. I suppose Zoe Strauss does it to great affect but it remains localized art, taking inspiration from the city. In my glorified role as critic, it seems pointless to analyze piles of indifferent art by sensitive types that identity too strongly with place rather than with ideas.
Yes, cities, historically, have always defined their art. Think Paris, Vienna, Rome, New York, Dusseldorf. But, in contrary fashion, I say, what about the places that have no identity? The places where many of us come from originally? Aren’t those places of Insufferable Normality prone to the same progress as cities, or the same difficulties? Anyway, New York isn’t really New York anymore is it? There is no "New York" art. London has had similar change. The Local is dead. Sure, it was always better before before the Gap and Starbucks intruded on the local identity, but what if the Gap and Starbucks is the local identity? That is a question for contemporary art to answer.
Next: Stay tuned for review of The World Is Flat at the Falling Cow Gallery on 4th Street, south of South in my fair city and a look in at Fleisher/Ollman's juried show.