ICA Philadelphia

Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania | 118 South 36th Street
PA-19104 Philadelphia

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artists & participants

press release

In conjunction with "WALL POWER," ICA organized exhibitions and a public art project that test and expand the concept of mural art, through August 4, 2000. The exhibitions were: "Forest," featuring new work by Joseph Bartscherer (New York), a conceptual artist who creates large-scale photographs; and "Indelible Market," a site-specific installation by graffiti artists Barry McGee (San Francisco), Stephen Powers (New York), and Todd James (New York).

ICA also ventured outside its walls to commission a temporary public art project, three outdoor billboards. Powers' billboard is at 42nd and Chestnut Streets, James' billboard is at 30th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, and McGee's billboard is at 31st and Spring Garden Streets. Bartscherer's installation of four large-scale photographic panels at 30th Street Station has been cancelled.

ICA's contribution to "WALL POWER" brought together four artists who broaden the traditional definition of mural art epitomized by Diego Rivera's frescoes and the WPA murals.

Joseph Bartscherer's photographic works explore the intersection between the natural environment and human intervention. For "Artranspennine '98," a photographic installation and postcard project he did in England, Bartscherer tracked the entire Leeds/Liverpool Canal, a major 19th century artery that helped make the industrial revolution possible, and which still divides industrial Lancashire from rural Yorkshire.

In Philadelphia, Bartscherer is premiering a new large-scale photographic series titled "Forest." Bartscherer is interested in how the physical character of a place bears on a person's psychological experience of it. While his images are beautiful in their own right, Bartscherer creates them to convey specific information about the places he photographs (for example, a site's history and makeup). At ICA, his complex photographs of a mature forest (including detailed images of fungus, leaves, and a pond) suggest the wilderness that used to exist on the site centuries before - and could exist here again.

ICA commissioned Joseph Bartscherer to produce a public artwork for the city of Philadelphia. Bartscherer proposed to install four large-scale panels with images derived from his photographic series "Forest," in the windows of the main concourse at 30th Street Station, through which 25,000 people pass daily. Entitled "Forest: Philadelphia," the project juxtaposed the majesty of an old-growth forest and the grandeur of the 1930s classical revival building, with its monumental columns and mammoth concourse. The proposal was approved by Amtrak and was scheduled for installation at 30th Street Station just prior to the opening of the related exhibition, "Forest," at ICA on May 13. In the last week of April, Amtrak withdrew its permission to install the artwork and authorized the placement of commercial advertising banners instead. ICA regrets that Bartscherer's work will not be exhibited at 30th Street Station, but will produce a postcard with an image of the proposed project and a statement about why it was not fully realized.

Equally untraditional in their approach to mural art are Stephen Powers (a native Philadelphian), Barry McGee and Todd James, whose work is rooted in unsanctioned, street-based graffiti art.

In his most recent project, Powers "improves" paint-peeling rolldown security gates throughout New York City with his bold moniker, ESPO (for Exterior Surface Painting Outreach) - building his "brand" through a kind of guerrilla gentrification campaign.

McGee, known as TWIST, creates layered murals that capture the sensory overload of the streets and reflect, in his words, the "cheerful hell of urban life." McGee's work especially resonates with older, grittier cities like Philadelphia - a place he calls his "favorite American city."

Todd James, known as REAS, has a large European following. He is renowned for his work on train cars and has taken his graffiti-influenced commercial art to clients including the Source, Adidas, and the Cartoon Network.

Two installations comprised "Indelible Market." In one gallery, Barry McGee embellished an existing mural featuring his signature sad-sack faces, amorphous honeycomb shapes, and miscellaneous texts for ICA's space. His installation also included drawings on found paper; produce logos; and photographs of favorite "tags" (a graffiti writer's mark), of graffiti writers in action, and of urban despair and quirkiness - all mounted in thrift shop frames.

In another gallery, Powers and James collaborated with McGee to create the interior of a bodega, or urban corner store. Containing mock consumer goods fabricated by the artists, the bodega sold not actual products but "vapors," which in hip-hop parlance refer to public image or the aura of celebrity. The bodega's rooftop featured a cacophony of ESPO signs that mimic the visual noise of a cheap urban retail strip. The artists have also collaborated on spontaneous wall paintings in ICA's gallery, as well as a series of outdoor billboards in West Philadelphia advertising what is "for sale" at ICA.

This project was supported by a grant from the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, a program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and administered by the University of the Arts, Philadelphia. The Pew Charitable Trusts, among the nation's largest philanthropies, support nonprofit activities in culture, education, the environment, health and human services, public policy, and religion. Based in Philadelphia, the Trusts make strategic investments to encourage civic engagement in addressing critical issues and effecting social change.

Additional support was generously provided by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Samuel S. Fels Fund, Dr. and Mrs. Karl F. Rugart, and friends and members of ICA.

Project Director: Judith Tannenbaum. Curators: Judith Tannenbaum, "Forest"; Alex Baker, "Indelible Market." Pressetext

Wall Power

mit Joseph Bartscherer, Todd James, Barry McGee, Stephen Powers
Kuratoren: Judith Tannenbaum, Alex Baker