What You Didn’t Miss in Old City Last Night

Once upon a time, I saw a photograph of a nude woman with the imprint of what looked like quarters burned into the prettiest curves in her collar bones....
Once upon a time, I saw a photograph of a nude woman with the imprint of what looked like quarters burned into the prettiest curves in her collar bones. The image made me cry. And I don’t mean quietly, in a socially acceptable way–I mean that I was standing in an antique furniture store in Germantown when I abruptly started crying. She was not a remarkable woman, the photograph woman. She had long brown hair covering her face and a rounded jaw line but there was something about this woman that just made me cry.
It’s not altogether uncommon. I’ve heard strange second-hand stories about people overwhelmed by paintings and photographs and mostly I wrote these off as bullshit until I saw the nude woman with the quarters. I think it was because, at the time I was having dreams about women with nickels stuck in the gaps between their teeth and was struggling with writing about them. Only now I wouldn’t say that I was struggling, I would say that I was failing… horribly.
But it’s not something that I particularly like to talk about. It’s especially something I don’t really need to dwell on at eleven o clock at night on a Friday after I spent the entire night accepting drinks from rich art snobs in Old City.
There are a lot of judgments that can be made from this entire intro–so I guess I can invite you to make them.
Art and art culture are hard to write about. I don’t pretend to have any foundation in art writing but I feel feelings sometimes when I look at things and I think that, for the most part, I can get it. Like most frustrated and generally angry writers, I spent a good amount of my life dicking around and attempting to find a new medium when the writing got hollow and exhausting. I dabbled. unsuccessfully and mostly half-heartedly in the visual arts. But if I’m really being honest, and I guess that I am, I would say that I understood visual arts–or, at the very least, envied visual arts.
So I was actually pretty excited when a co-worker of mine brought up hitting up a few galleries for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts 2011. We hit up Old City to make a few rounds. We walked into Muse, ate some cheese and drank some Arizona Iced tea.
Nancy Halbert

Nancy E. F. Halbert

Muse was a good first gallery to enter. None of it was altogether exciting, but it was a nice environment to be around. One of the resident artists, Nancy E.F. Halbert had displayed a few series of mixed media paintings largely of the human, faceless, body. Some of which, were pleasantly surprising–a few featuring some unexpected textures and movements.

We moved on north, hoping to find a place to talk and meet with some of the artists. We wandered into a few galleries, drank free wine and looked at what seemed to be exhibit after exhibit of paintings of purposefully disproportionate nude post-modernist female bodies. But they weren’t like the woman with the quarters and I was starting to feel disconnected and betrayed.
I wasn’t expecting this great holy communion with art. I knew that I had largely ignored any semblance of the life for a few years now and I wasn’t expecting any of those stimuli to welcome me back with open arms but I was, I guess, expecting something.
I did buy some lovely glass work from Scarlet Alley on 2nd and Race. One of the staff members kept pouring me some kind of delicious cocktail with bitters in it. I like bitters and I like people with hospitable attitudes when it comes to cocktails. So we lingered there for awhile. Glassware and hair combs are safe harbors for me and I didn’t mind listening to someone talk about something other than a mediocre print that was selling for more than a thousand dollars.
Sky Kim

Sky Kim, Sea of SAMSARA

But we moved on eventually to the dalet art gallery. Shit finally got a little interesting here. An exhibit called Sea of SAMSARA featured what appeared to be limit-less circular patterns on 30 foot long scrolls—watercolor, nonetheless. I definitely lingered here. I touched the scrolls on the side, and looked around. None of the artists or exhibit hall staff gave me a look so I relaxed a bit. I walked towards the back to two open doors–both of which appeared to be lived in or maybe at least, studios in which people spent some time in.
And that’s when I wandered through the larger room of the two, where Valera Iskhakov semi-resided in. I didn’t know this yet though. Mostly, I was just happy to see a table covered in piles of dried oil paint, an unused and unplugged stand-up organ, and a jar of pickles.
The jar of pickles was very important to me. It was the first point during this entire night that I felt commune with my surrounding.
russian pickles
It was the big, industrial size jar of pickles. But the pickles were the small, cheap kind and I already knew what they were really used for before I even got a chance to locate the scattered shot glasses around the room. That’s an eastern european thing. It reminded me of being fourteen again. I had a bestfriend who was originally from the Ukraine who would steal glasses of vodka and we would fill the glasses with ice and eat pickles as chasers.
It was something that I could feel. It felt enchanted and intriguing, not cold and evasive.
I don’t want to act like I’m above the hardwood floors and high white ceilings (I’m clearly not) but it’s disenchanting. I think that I’m jaded. I think that I hold art to an enchanting standard.
Overall, what is lacking from these exhibits and a lot of the events going on for PIFA is that sense of enchantment and intrigue that the Philadelphia art scene is so defined by—an unexpected feeling, the kind you get from spotting a new wheat paste, yarn bomb, or picture frames cemented to abandoned buildings.
So I guess this is my personal thank you to all y’all DIYers and bombers for keeping it enchanted.