Vox Populi

Through July 29, 2012

By Daniel Gerwin




It’s worth a sweaty trip to see this year’s summer juried show at Vox Populi, Philadelphia’s most established cooperative gallery.  There is some ambitious work to provoke both head and heart, and the rooms do not feel as overstuffed as in some recent summers past.


Ruba Katrib (curator of the Sculpture Center) and Marlo Pascual (artist) have made the selections for Vox VIII, and the result is billed as an “investigation of avant-garde movements–minimalism, arte povera, performance and conceptualism–even as [the artists] undercut and rework those legacies.” To put this description another way, the work participates in the neo-formalism that has preoccupied artists and galleries alike in recent years. Many of the efforts in this show fall short of undercutting and reworking, relying too heavily on powerful forebears like Richard Tuttle and Jessica Stockholder, to name just two that came to mind as I walked the rooms.  Yet most everything is executed with what feels like a genuine passion for making, and a commitment to get it right.


In the Winter 2012 issue of October, David Greers argues that neo-formalism, which he defines in part as a “renewed interest in abstraction, materiality, and process,” reflects a conservative inclination to flee the troubling uncertainties of our time by making a headlong rush backwards to the canonical bedrock of modernism.   There may be some truth in this, but I’m not sure it’s the whole story.  Greers himself acknowledges that more is at play than fearful nostalgia, noting other explanatory factors including a rejection of “slick commodity art” (i.e. Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst) and a “generalized fatigue with theory.”  The former explanation is certainly credible, and as for the latter, exhaustion with theory is surely significant but it may not stem from an inability to cope with rigorous intellectual demands.  Rather, it is simply tiresome to see one MFA after another produce work that merely illustrates or demonstrates a text encountered in seminar.


The best work in Vox VIII goes beyond tweaking modernism or performing the not-so-novel insights that art can be made out of anything and that boundaries no longer exist between painting, sculpture, photography, video, installation, and so on.  The pieces that caught my attention take these positions as a point of departure but travel a good distance beyond, reaching paths that are either less-traveled or being actively bushwacked by the artist. It’s not radical formal innovation that distinguishes these works, but rather their ability to materially articulate intimate and urgent concerns.  At this point in reviewing a group show, it is generally expected that standout artists be named. But art is where you find it, so head over to Vox and have a look.


Daniel’s work was most recently on view in two group shows in New York: Natural/Constructed Spaces at The Painting Center, and Matter at The Brooklyn Artists Gym.