Small but mighty artworks round out 2015 for Philadelphia Sculpture Gym

arts / Article

December 11, 2015 by Chip Schwartz

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Photo: Madeline Smith, “Signing Fossils.”

Last Friday, on what was the the final First Friday of 2015, Philadelphia Sculpture Gym succeeded in showcasing an array of styles and processes relating to three-dimensional artwork. The Knight Arts grantee's spacious studio area bristled with vendors and members' creations for its “Coldhearted V” sale, while its gallery hosted the opening of “Small Works IV.” In the gallery, the approach was slightly more austere, with works displayed as standalone creations–specifically, works that measure no more than one cubic foot.

Considering each piece only occupies a small footprint, the Sculpture Gym's gallery was able to fit some 18 artists into the show–no small feat, regardless of size. Madeline Smith's spiny creatures composed of flame-worked glass are immediate standouts for their rich, porous pastel exteriors and defensive looking spikes that poke out in all directions. The pair of “Signing Fossils” are metallic pink and blue respectively, with hollow interiors visible through almond-shaped slits. If the artist's interpretation is that these are some sort of fossil, it seems clear that instead of displaying empirical evidence about the past, they seem intent to elucidate it on their own.

Emily Elliott, “Drop.”

Emily Elliott's artifact, on the other hand, appears more like an entomological specimen than a fossil. Pinned to its backing like a preserved arthropod, “Drop” contains a piece of etched bronze stuck to dyed mulberry paper. The 'drop' itself looks perhaps more like a meteor than a water droplet, its surface pockmarked by crevices that resemble craters. Its backing of dark paper is also riddled with pinholes, calling to mind the inky blackness of space speckled by innumerable stars. If Elliott's piece represents a drop, then it is more like one rock amongst the ever-expanding celestial vastness than a single raindrop in the ocean. Either way, though, this small artwork captures a much grander vision than its size would suggest.

Not unlike the appearance of the complex cosmos, Dawn Kramlich layers a number of matboard cutouts (also black) on top of one another for her piece “I've Already Spent Too Much Time With You.” Each layer is laser-cut with a flurry of words, letters or phrases... but good luck deciphering them. As the pieces recede, the text becomes further convoluted until it appears more like a study of negative space than a textual experiment. The fact of the matter is that Kramlich's rectangular image is really both. Capturing an instance of emotional confusion or frustration in one frame, this image is both rationally easy to understand and jarring at the same time.

Jim Licaretz, “Rotation I.”

Jim Licaretz rounds out the show with a circular bronze cast entitled “Rotation I.” Like some sort of early animation device similar to a phenakistoscope, the doughnut-shaped metal disc is fitted with relief sculptures of a nude female figure from seven different perspectives. Although this not truly a functional animation tool, it plays on the idea of movement, as well as similar ideas of multiple angles found in Cubism and other early modern art forms.

From glass to bronze and paper, the types of materials and artistic techniques are many, but just about any individual piece could fit inside a shoebox. “Small Works IV” just goes to show us that bigger isn't always better. Many more small but spectacular creations await at the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym this month, so be sure to stop by the Frankford Avenue workspace and gallery before the New Year.

“Small Works IV” runs through Dec. 31 at Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, 1834 E. Frankford Ave., Philadelphia.  

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