“Matter of Time”

This exhibition marked the tenth anniversary of the Academy’s Morris Gallery, a space dedicated to showing Pennsylvania-affiliated artists. It also inaugurated “Philadelphia Art Now,” a three-year series of city-wide events intended to promote local artists. The original concept for the exhibition was to commission a single, integrated, collectively created project on the theme of time, to be produced by the 12 participants selected by an academy-appointed review committee. Not surprisingly, the intended collaboration gradually devolved into a series of solo and dual efforts (with one three-member attempt) exploring different aspects of the common theme. Works dealt with such concepts as the end of time (Ralfka Gonzalez); the passage and effects of time (Connie Coleman/Alan Powell, Eileen Neff); as well as time’s cost (Cheryl Gelover/Thomas Murray/Mitchell Smith). The pieces varied wildly in quality and concept, from the crudely amateurish and vapid to the sophisticated and theoretically complex. Ultimately, the works failed to cohere into a larger whole, and what was trendily billed as a “multimedia collaborative installation” was in effect a not particularly well-integrated theme show.

The most substantive, fully realized work here was Peter Rose’s collaboration with dancer-choreographer Steve Krieckhaus, Foil Yet Cleem Triavith, 1988, which combined language, video, sound, and painting. Its impetus and anagrammatic title derived from a prose poem written by Rose. The poem appeared on a wall-mounted panel behind a somewhat totemic, triangular arrangement of color video monitors. The monitors played computer-animated, variously timed cycles of the poem’s phrases, followed by footage Rose had shot of an actual brick maze (built in the mid ’70s by British sculptor Michael Ayrton)—the labyrinth suggested a spatial metaphor for time’s perplexities. Provocative juxtapositions of text to image, image to image, and text to text came up in continually shifting alignments. The arrangements of Rose’s text on the screen reflected its content, creating a kinetic video analogue to concrete poetry; for example, the phrase “Was A Precipice” configured itself into an irregularly stepped typographical ridge. As these phrases played out their permutations on the large monitors, the viewer caught fragmentary glimpses of Krieckhaus’ naked figure in various positions and movements which also echoed the visible text fragment on the screen. At the same time, his gestures and the text’s movements quoted or referred subliminally to the history of the figure in art, and made sly homages to well-known filmic tropes. The piece contrived an aural dimension as well; the single headset attached to the small monitor allowed one to hear Rose’s poem as an electronically manipulated vocal improvisation. Completing the installation, Rose had arranged a series of 18th- and 20th-century portraits (all selected from the academy’s permanent collection) to face each other on opposing walls of the gallery, setting up (not entirely successfully) what he termed a “cross-generational regard,” a mutual contemplation across the centuries. Three modalities of time—historical, public, and private—were thus presented in this installation by, respectively, the paintings, large monitors, and small monitor with headset. In attempting a poetic and multilayered investigation, this work did manage to evoke something of time’s elusive nature, and, of the works in this exhibition, got closest to the heart of the matter.

Paula Marincola