My Musings On Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show

Last weekend I attended the Show in Philadelphia. This art fair dates back to 1928. It is the oldest outdoor art festival in the country. Dorothy Blodgett, a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art was the show's founder. Back then, the “Art Flea Market” had art hung on clotheslines, strung between the trees. It is a little different now.

At the recent show, there were 143 booths. There were no galleries represented, just artists (and some partners). They were from all over the country. They set up their own booths and spent two days showing and selling their art in that lovely park. It’s a beautiful location and they had the perfect weekend for it.

Mostly, the work very nice. Some were even good. None of what I saw was “bad”. I think, because of the nature and location of the fair, the artists are inclined to show decorative, easy to like, “match the couch” type work. That makes sense. It’s not a venue for building relationships or gaining exposure. Their objective here is to sell art. There was a lot of easily saleable art.

Most of the recognized styles of painting were represented, but figurative and still life works abounded the most. I think there were no surrealists or graffiti/street art. There were sculptors too, showing a range of styles. As expected, some better than others. Photography was woefully underrepresented. There were some standouts for me. Ironically, three of the half dozen or so that I really liked were sculptors. I have virtually no sculpture in my collection (however, I will by the time you read this).

The best, artist in the show was Marlene Rose. Ms Rose is a glass sculptor who uses a thousand-year-old process that was originally used for bronze. Only relatively recently has the process been adapted for working with glass. Marlene creates the sculpture from some easy to work with material. Next, she presses that into sand, creating the mold. Then she pours molten glass into the mold and it takes days to cool. At some stage color and designs are added. The whole thing takes weeks. It’s hot, dangerous, labor-intensive and she’s really good at it. Her work is highly refined but intentionally rustic. Light reflecting through the glass is a well thought out part of finished work. It’s easy to live with, but not simplistic. Most of what I saw could fit well almost anywhere. Because of the interplay with the light, they might lose something on a bookcase. I’m trying to figure now where the light will be best for the piece that will soon be joining me at home.

Metal sculptor, David Vigo is a frequent visitor to this bi-annual art fair. He comes up for Pensacola Florida. Vigo isn’t just cutting and welding metal parts together. His work is imaginative and very refined. Some of them look like he’s constructed paintings from industrial materials. My son and I saw one of his works when we visited the Moody Jones Gallery in Glenside, PA the following week. Three (my son) liked it a lot, so I bought it. The metal is polished so that it looks like glass. I didn’t realize it was David’s work when I inquired about it, but I was not surprised when I found out.

"Vigo isn’t just cutting and welding metal parts together."

Another sculptor I liked at the show is Kimmy Cantrell. He is from the Atlanta area. Kimmy works with clay. He does colorful, highly stylized interpretations of African masks. He’s also known for his nudes and fish, done similarly in his signature style. His sculptures were presented standing and shadow-box framed for hanging. The Moody Jones Gallery has one of Mr. Cantrell's masks also. I think The Universe is telling me something.

Artist, Brett Henderson was The Wife's favorite. (Yes, she came with.) Brett Henderson is a New Orleans based mixed media artist and sculptor. Brett was showing some acrylic cut-out, multimedia pictures that are colorful, creative and engaging. He stacks four layers of images so the work has depth and it moves and changes as you walk around it. Seeing as The Wife likes him and Father’s Day is next week, I may already own one of these. We’ll see how it plays.

Often student exhibitions are a good place to discover talented, up and coming artists. Not so much at the Rittenhouse Show this year. The student exhibitors looked premature and not ready.

Generally, it was a lovely afternoon. Everyone was nice. The art ranged from pleasant to fascinating and I’m looking forward to the next one.

W Skeet Jiggetts

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