Every painting tells a story

Working in an art museum allows me to plumb the depths of the collection in a way that would be difficult, if not impractical, for most visitors. While we certainly encourage visitors to pursue their own academic interests arising from what they’ve seen (the Barnes’ art library is free and open to the public during business hours), sometimes the artwork Dr. Barnes collected is fascinating for the stories behind it, rather than the work’s formal qualities. Such is the case with a painting that can be seen in Gallery 23, by Tilly Losch. It’s a fun story to tell, and I’ve chosen to turn it into a Prezi presentation which you can view below. 

This is a rough draft— the real story is so much more detailed than appropriate for a short Prezi— and I haven’t yet drawn up the bibliography which I intend to do, but art geeks should get a kick out of this. 

Best watched in full screen mode. Advance at your own pace by using your keyboard’s arrow keys, or the onscreen arrows. 

Ellsworth Kelly at the Barnes Foundation

Ellsworth Kelly in front of 'Sculpture for a large wall' at the Barnes Foundation. (Emma Lee/Newsworks) One of the best perks about working at a cultural institution like the Barnes Foundation is that occasionally I get to do something really cool. Usually, it’s something like visit the conservation lab to see what masterpiece is being saved from certain doom by the dedicated team of conservators, or listen to a guest lecture for staff only, from scientists who have been studying the pigments Continue reading

InLiquid Benefit v. Thirteen

Last night I attended the 13th annual InLiquid Silent Auction Benefit at the Crane Arts building’s Icebox space. Although with more felt fedoras, bow-ties and ironic mustaches in attendance than was strictly necessary (seriously, it was like a Hipster factory exploded), it was a fun evening hob-nobbing with fellow Philly artists and collectors.

InLiquid Benefit 2013

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Studio Visit: Ellen Benson, Hidden Gems


Ellen Benson's mask-like faces to be used in future projects.

Ellen Benson’s mask-like faces to be used in future projects.

In yesterday’s post, I described my trip to see Randy Dalton’s The Blue Grotto with Steve Berg (from Nichols-Berg Gallery) and encaustic painter and art instructor Clarissa Shanahan, and mixed-media artist Ellen Benson. Before venturing out to West Philadelphia to see Dalton’s art installation, Ellen invited us to see her home and studio in West Mount Airy. This is my record of that visit. Continue reading

Randy Dalton still wants you to “Do Blue”


Randy Dalton's Blue Grotto

Randy Dalton’s Blue Grotto

[Today I was lucky enough to tour the artist home/studios of two creative individuals (Ellen Benson, and Randy Dalton, both of the West Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia), plus an installation known as The Blue Grotto, and several related galleries/installations nearby in West Philadelphia. Because my head is still spinning with sensory overload, I’m going to share my visits with you in several chunks. This first chunk is about Randy Dalton, and his Blue Grotto Installation/Do Blue project.]

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QR Hobo Codes

QR Hobo Codes

“Caveat Emptor” QR Code

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of, or at least seen a QR Code… you know those funny little square black and white designs you’ll sometimes see in an ad or on a sign somewhere? They’ve been around for about 10 years in Japan and Europe, but they’re just taking off here in the United States.

QR Codes (the “QR” stands for “Quick Response”) can hold varying amounts of data, even up to several pages worth of text. Anyone with a smartphone can read the code, and instantly decode the text, or connect to a relevant website. Newer phones have the capability built-in, and older models can use one of the free apps such as i-nigma. Continue reading

Art Review: What It Is at Fountain

Fountain logo Yesterday I attended Fountain art fair in New York City, a part of Art Week there. Although I arrived under a heavy rain, completely soaked through, I was surprised to see a handful of other intrepid art-goers already there at opening time. Fountain (the name is an homage to Marcel Duchamp’s ground-breaking entry in the 1917 Armory Show, a porcelain urinal entitled “fountain” turned on its side and signed “R. Mutt”, now housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the ultra-glam and glitzy “official” Armory Show, full of blue-chip galleries, avant-garde hair, and bizarre fashions. Fountain has a DIY aesthetic (which is not to say unprofessional), with some of the artwork being finished at the show. Around 20 artists and galleries participated. In addition, there were daily live performances. Like Duchamp’s “fountain”, the show gave a middle-finger salute to the art establishment, while at the same time engaging in serious art-making and art-dealing.

The venue for the exhibits was on The Frying Pan, a rusty old barge (pier 66, at 26th street and 12th avenue) that groaned and swayed gently under your feet. At times I wasn’t sure if it was the artwork or the barge making me queasy. The normally open-air top deck had been set up with walls and tented with plastic tarpaulins to keep most of the rain out, although viewers had to side-step buckets and drips everywhere, and several of the more fragile paintings and sculptures were damaged by the deluge.

Most of the exhibitors were from New York, but What It Is is a gallery based in the suburban-Chicago home of its proprietors, Tom Burtonwood and Holly Holmes. Their booth got more of the water damage than anyone else, but I spoke to Mr. Burtonwood while his assistants performed the Sisyphean task of dumping water collecting in the tarps overhead.

Just because the gallery is located in part of their home, don’t think that Burtonwood + Holmes aren’t serious about it. For the past two years, they’ve had cutting-edge installations (open to the public at opening receptions, by appointment only thereafter) and regularly issue catalogs and other publications documenting the exhibits. Their booth at Fountain showed works by Sabina Ott, Andrew Rigsby, Lise Haller Baggesen, Stoic Swine, and Tom Burtonwood. (Much better images of the artwork can be found here.)


Composition 6.1.1 (detail) by Tom Burtonwood

Composition 6.1.1 (detail) by Tom Burtonwood

Burtonwood’s gouache paintings of polychrome geometric (and isometric) shapes are reminiscent of video games (Tetris, The Sims) and architectural renderings, but the angles are off by just a few degrees which eliminates any real sense of perspective and 3-dimensionality; the effect when seen in person is slightly unsettling, yet so subtle that many viewers may not notice.


Composition, by Tom Burtonwood. Gouache on paper.

Composition, by Tom Burtonwood. Gouache on paper. Please excuse the reflection.

His series of color studies all use the same arrangement of geometric figures (silkscreened onto the paper in different line colors) yet by changing the colors on the face of each cube-like piece yields completely different effects, with some pieces seeming to recede in certain compositions, and protruding in others. Also, I’ve seen many digital images of these paintings before which I now know don’t do them justice. Seeing them in person for the first time at Fountain, I was immediately taken in by the velvety surface quality of the gouache, and the visible brushstrokes and undertones in each of the shapes. There is something completely charming about the “mistakes” introduced through human error (like the missing piece on the right side of each of the composition color studies) in Burtonwood’s work. Work like this could easily be created on a computer using common drawing and painting programs like Photoshop™, but it would have none of the vitality that this artist has given it.

Fountain Art Fair ran at Pier 66 on The Frying Pan, at 26th Street and 12th Avenue in the Hudson River Park from March 4 – 6, 2011. What It Is is located in Oak Park, Illinois.