Paper Work at Snyderman-Works

By Samantha Mitchell

through March 18th

Panel discussion on March 9th



Among other curatorial pursuits, Snyderman-Works’ dedication to contemporary craft sets it apart, with a consistent offering of textile and ceramics that work in tandem with spaces like The Center for Art in Wood and The Fabric Workshop. Its recent interest in pulling in artists whose work might be more familiar to spaces in the “Vox Building” (319 N. 11th street) is encouraging for the Old City gallery scene overall, which can feel stale and not relevant compared to riskier spaces embracing work by younger artists. Commercial galleries in Philadelphia have a relationship with the city’s contemporary artistic identity that, when compared to other cities with an active population of artists emerging from schools in the area, can sometimes feel detached. By bringing together works from both worlds, Paper Work asks what responsibility – if any – a city’s collection of commercial galleries have toward emerging artists. Beyond this, thematic links between the work in Paper Work are grounded in inventive use of material and the embrace of humor through personal and imagined narratives.


Lucia Thomé’s sculptures memorialize personal artifacts in architecturally sound yet goofy creations. Expanding the realm of miniature to tiny Nike sneakers and astronauts dressed like soda cans, Thomé’s work nicely dovetails her experience working with Philadelphia’s Recycled Artist in Residence program (where she is the Director of Special Projects) with an enthusiasm for small-scale sculpture (see Thome’s work on subTRACTION). In They Were Seltzer Cans for Halloween, Thomé fashions tiny Vintage seltzer water cans into outfits for a series of tiny found figurines. Donut and Endo are loving portraits of a backhoe and forklift. The work is painstakingly and meticulously crafted, but emphasizes a hand-crafted quality with residual pencil lines and crooked edges. The combined fastidious attention to minutia and intentional sloppiness makes the tiny sculptures particularly endearing. The resulting aesthetic is both precious, yet indulges in yucky garbage humor.


Amy Lee Ketchnum is another sculptor of miniatures, using cardboard as her primary medium. By strategically cutting the board to expose its layers, Ketchum makes the material feel delicate and dynamic. Polaroids uses the corrugations to create depth in each tiny scene, like cross-hatching in a comic. The vignettes in each replicated Polaroid feel theatrical yet intimate, like film stills. Video work from Ketchum – along with Kristina Centore’s stop motion puppet piece White Painted and Ashley Wick’s animated painting OH MY Goat – invite the viewer into a private experience with material within the context of weird interpersonal dramas, played out by inanimate protagonists. The intimate relationship with mark on display in the films via the careful handling of clay, paint, and other malleable materials encourages a closer look at all of the work in the exhibition, which possess the same dynamic potential energy.


The 2-D work in Paper Work maintains the same engagement with play as the sculptural work does. Pieces by Raleigh artist George McKim and Philadelphian Adam Lovitz resonate well together. Both employ a kind of meaty sandwich aesthetic in their collage-based work, intensifying textures of ripped paper by butting them against splotched painted surfaces, fleshy color palettes, and sharp, wiggly design elements. Both artists’ work plays with the construction of illusionistic space, with surrealist snippets of recognizable objects and flattened dimensionality.


Two ink and watercolor compositions by Mariel Capanna feature a conglomerate of collected moments, captured in her illustrative drawing style which speaks to the malleable nature of memory. In Bed Stuy, a specific gesture of a crooked arm, snippet of a patterned blazer, a can of soda, and a twig of leaves, each plucked from its surroundings, are memorialized in a mosaic sea of fragmentary moments. The composition is balanced between these disparate snapshots, without a centralized motif, with every element operating differently in relation to its surroundings.  


Along with their ground-floor gallery, Snyderman-Works maintains a showroom in its basement with a variety of pieces from artists they represent. While this section of the gallery is notably stylistically different than the space above – seemingly intended to be of a more commercial shop space – works by ceramicist Mary Fischer found in the showroom, while not part of the show, resonated with the selections in Paper Works. Fischer creates slab-based pieces based on various agricultural structures, glazed in matte white with hand-drawn architectural details. Minimalist silos and barns are ghostly and geometric, simultaneously bulky and precarious, gracefully complementing Thome’s miniatures.


In Paper Work, Snyderman-Works’ stated intention is to bring together Philadelphia artists whose work is more often seen in commercial, established galleries with “emerging local artists” who are typically seen in DIY artist-run gallery spaces. Signaling Snyderman’s desire to remain commercially-minded while casting a wider net in their curatorial choices and pulling in younger artists who have exhibited more-or-less exclusively in the DIY artist-run gallery realm, the exhibition will be rounded out with an upcoming panel discussion, entitled “Collecting Philly,” led by co-curator and local artist and art collector Alex Conner. Combining a curatorial approach with a pitch for collection is an interesting move that expresses Snyderman’s commitment to dissolving division within the Philadelphia art scene.


Samantha Mitchell is an artist, writer, and teacher living in Philadelphia.