Critics’ Picks

Erika Nelson, World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things, 2001–, mixed media, dimensions variable.



The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Museum
118-128 North Broad Street
October 22–December 31

Detroit’s drastic population decrease; Phoenix’s vibrant Native American community; Raleigh-Durham’s legacy of Big Tobacco: These historical and social forces are bound to shape local artistic practices, or such is the reasonable claim of “here.”. Selected by six curators based in Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Phoenix-Scottsdale, and Raleigh-Durham, the works in this exhibition present twenty-four artists and collectives invested in the topoi of their regional situations. Kansas City’s Whoop Dee Doo blasts forth with Untitleed, 2011, an installation abuzz with the irrepressible optimism of their community talent shows whose plenitude echoes off Scott Hocking’s bleaker scenes of urban decay in Detroit. The roughly Arizona-based group Postcommodity protests the desecration of land used for tribal rituals by developers in Na’nizhoozhi da’ nijahigi na’ a’ahi (Gallup Motel Butchering), 2011, their four-channel film of a motel sheep slaughter, while Jennifer Levonian’s hand-drawn animation in The Oven Sky, 2011, opts for a lighter touch in order to problematize the hasty gentrification sweeping neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

In fact, the show’s most vibrant resonance may be here, in Philadelphia. Pondering Abigail Anne Newbold’s meticulously designed disaster survival kits in “Homemaker Series,” 2010–11, cocurator Rebecca Ruth Hart asks this timely question in her catalogue essay: “Could we use a kit to make a pop-up settlement anywhere within the urban setting?” The answer, it seems, can be found a block away from PAFA, at City Hall. Camping in tents, rigged tarps, and lean-tos, the protesters at Occupy Philly answer Hart’s query with a resounding affirmative. As a project realized by Julien Robson, PAFA’s first curator of contemporary art, “here.” bucks the Enlightenment charter of the country’s oldest art school in order to acknowledge the urgency of local politics. Perhaps unwittingly, but no doubt wholeheartedly, the exhibition joins the chorus of the Occupy movements in asserting that cities are peculiar places with specific concerns best articulated by local residents. As Kansas-based Erika Nelson suggests in her trunk road show, “World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things,” 2001–, the smaller the scale, the higher the stakes may be.