20th Century and Contemporary, Guest Posts, Museums/Exhibits, Notes from the Field, Photography

Notes from the Field: Art Jam

Zoe Strauss is an unconventional young artist whose exciting, provocative photographic work culminates annually in a show she organizes: “Under I-95” takes place under Interstate 95 in South Philadelphia.  Her photographs are displayed on the concrete pillars that support the highway, and photocopies of the images are sold for $5 each.  Strauss has said that her ambition is “to create an epic narrative that reflects the beauty and struggle of everyday life,” a goal that is met when she transforms a gritty, urban area into a vibrant public space for artistic and cultural exchange.  A mid-career retrospective that captures the past decade of her work is currently on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the exhibition opened on Saturday, January 14th with a fitting celebration: a huge dance party at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  The accompanying catalogue, Zoe Strauss: 10 Years (including nearly 200 photographs, and with essays by Peter Barberie, Sally Stein and Zoe Strauss) is due out imminently.

Here is a link to dozens of photos from the party, which make us very sad indeed to have missed it. For an eyewitness account, we turned to Mary Cason, the catalogue’s editor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, who reports:

“Never has the Philadelphia Museum of Art seen such a huge and high-spirited crowd. I’d worked with Zoe over the past six months and felt certain that her ineffable charm, humor, and wisdom would shape a party like no other. But nothing could have prepared me for the amazing wellspring of good feeling that washed across the crowd that night—an exuberance that can only be ascribed to the magic Zoe works when she touches any part of your life.

When the doors to the museum opened at 8:00 p.m., people poured into the gallery where the show is on view, filling it with animated conversation as visitors took in the breadth and depth of Zoe’s work. Forget the polite hum and murmur of a conventional museum opening event. You had to raise your voice to be heard—and you didn’t mind in the least.

Every element of the event—from the self-operated photography kiosk to the dance floor—was imbued with a spirit of optimism and sheer joy. A marching band from West Philadelphia warmed the crowd up. The clapping and swaying to the drum line merged seamlessly into dancing.

The floor was packed with people ages eight to eighty, while the rest of the guests happily spilled into adjacent halls and up the massive main staircase to the balconies. Huge photographs of guests (taken at the kiosk on the ground floor) were projected behind the DJ dais—creating the impression that we had all been invited as honored guests to celebrate and share in Zoe’s achievements. Throughout, the monumental statue of an elegant and nude Diana that crowns the staircase pointed her arrow into the heavens and gazed dreamily into the distance, oblivious to the bacchanal below.”

—Mary Cason, Editor, Publishing, Philadelphia Museum of Art

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