Welcome Message from Shelton Walker, Chief of Staff / Associate VP for Strategic Initiatives
Dear Friends of the Art Alliance,
Though our doors have been closed, we are so pleased to share that we’ve been able to leverage this unplanned pause in strategic ways.
As one who has the privilege of overseeing and working across university centers, of which the Art Alliance is one (others include Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, Lightbox Film Center, and the Center for Immersive Media), I am continually inspired by the potential these initiatives hold not just today, but in five years, a decade, a quarter century or more, in our work to advance human creativity.
Though we were all disappointed to cut short the Pew-funded exhibition Invisible City: Philadelphia and the Vernacular Avant Garde and postpone a number of planned projects this year, we have seized the opportunity to advance our next phase of renovations, made possible by the generous support of the Dietrich Foundation; the vision and leadership of President David Yager; and continued design expertise of Solomonoff Architecture Studio and JacobsWyper Architects. At this very moment, work is advancing to restore and enhance the grand stair and second-floor landing. The recent investments made by both the Dietrich Foundation and the university amid a global pandemic is a true testament to the legacy and future potential the Philadelphia Art Alliance at University of the Arts holds for our city and the region. Yet our work towards transforming the Art Alliance as a destination for contemporary creative practices across disciplines is truly just beginning.
Many may view the Art Alliance and its programs independently from the university, yet I have a unique position to see how they are interrelated, and how the scholarship, deep study, experiments and failures across a university devoted to all of the arts can and will shape a center like the Art Alliance. New understandings within the arts and even in our own histories can be achieved. New futures, methods and alternate approaches and renewed traditions within creative practice will be uncovered. Synergies among immersive technologies and analogue, haptic and embodied practices will be explored. The convergence of interests comes together in a unique way that only a university setting can afford.
Our team is currently hard at work examining and re-animating all the potentials of the Art Alliance. In addition to some of the stories featured here, we have also recently embarked on actively identifying resources and ways we can celebrate and gain new understandings from the archive of the Art Alliance, a true treasure not just for the city, but for the nation. With President Yager’s vision and understanding of what the Art Alliance can be in the future, we continue to seek partners to assist us in enacting the final phases of renovation, which includes making the building truly accessible to all and renovating the long-neglected residential quarters of the building, which represent new potentials and modes of engagement with artists. Conversations and planning continue for the eventual return of a restaurant. And above all, our curatorial team is hard at work, and in conversation with artists, imagining schedule of programs for when we return, which we hope will be at some point in the spring or summer of 2021.
Until then, view our installation of Carrie Mae Weems national project, Resist Covid Take 6!, which was recently reviewed in Forbes, and watch your inboxes for updates and virtual engagement programs over the coming months.
We are grateful for your continued interest and support during this incredible year.
Chief of Staff / Associate VP for Strategic Initiatives
Additional October 2020 Updates
For more than 100 years, the Art Alliance has been a truly unique destination for artists across disciplines; what was once a historic mansion became the nation’s first multidisciplinary arts center by 1915. Though its use as a private house was short-lived, the Art Alliance’s physical structure informed its role as a longstanding home for relevant contemporary art makers of the day. The building’s distinct history, construction and story have established it as a true architectural gem in the heart of Rittenhouse Square. Though it has been well-loved and cherished throughout the past century and has showcased countless groundbreaking exhibitions and events under its roof, elements of the building have long been in need of attention.
Thanks to a grant from the William B. Dietrich Foundation, University of the Arts is able to advance to the second phase of the Art Alliance’s renovations: a restoration of the building’s characteristic grand staircase and second-floor landing. The Foundation’s generosity has meant that this exciting project has never lost its momentum, even throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
Sid Sachs, chief curator and director of exhibitions at University of the Arts, contributed an essay to the recently published exhibition catalog accompanying She-Bam Pow POP Wizz! Les Amazones du POP, currently on view at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Nice (MAMAC) in France.
Spanning the period from 1961 to 1973, the exhibition primarily highlights the efforts of European and North American artists. The included works illustrate the influence of heroines—from characters like Barbarella to artists such as Evelyne Axell—on the history of Pop Art. Though this movement has been the subject of numerous exhibitions around the globe, this presentation is notable for its emphasis on the role of female practitioners who harnessed stereotypical portrayals of women, popular in the media of the time, in order to defy them.
Sachs, whose curatorial vision is regularly on display at the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, is well-versed in this subject matter. His expertise was previously demonstrated through the exhibition Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958–1968, which debuted at University of the Arts in 2010 and later traveled nationally to venues including the Brooklyn Museum. Seductive Subversion was a landmark effort in expanding the critical understanding of Pop Art and was the first exhibit to examine the role of women in Pop Art. Hyperallergic cited the show as an “important and revelatory exhibition” which “amplified what many people suspected for a long time: men weren’t the only ones to make Pop Art.” The exhibit received the AICA Award as Best Thematic Museum Exhibition nationally that year, and in November 2019, Artnews cited it as the seventh most influential show of the past decade.
When Sachs first learned of plans for She-Bam Pow POP Wizz!—from an artist included in his 2010 exhibition who was also selected for the exhibition in Nice—he reached out to MAMAC director Hélène Guenin and Geraldine Gourbe, the museum’s guest curator at the time. He explains, “I was curious about who else they might be including in the exhibit, because since Seductive Subversion, the Pop canon had been substantially revised.” This sparked a correspondence during which Sachs provided key information about certain artists, galleries and estates and was invited to contribute to the catalog.
The essay Sachs’ provided, titled “Extended Thoughts on Women and Pop Art,” deepens the understanding of the contributions made by women Pop artists, as well as the often-unexplored subversive and political implications of the movement. This work builds on content he previously wrote for Seductive Subversion and marks the first time his writing on this subject has been translated into French. Revisiting this topic, Sachs reflected on the impact of his previous work, saying “When I researched and presented Seductive Subversion, no one had ever done any work in this area. It was new territory. Every major Pop Art exhibit since that time has included women.” The current show at MAMAC, on view until Mar. 28, 2021, can be seen as a supplement to this pioneering effort.
Conceived by Carrie Mae Weems and Pierre Loving, Resist Covid Take 6! aims to create an artist-driven public awareness campaign to educate and enlighten Black, Latinx and Native American communities about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. This awareness campaign will use creative measures and projects to emphasize preventative steps that must be taken to ensure these community members’ safety and reinforce the absolute necessity of social distancing.
UArts is the exclusive presenter of Weems’ project in Philadelphia, where billboards, creative messaging and public art will be installed around Center City to highlight the virus’ staggering death toll. Phase 1 of the project at UArts is generously supported by the Jessica Hamilton Hardy Visiting Artist Fund.
University of the Arts is actively seeking Philadelphia-area partners to expand the scope of Resist Covid Take 6! in Phase 2. To learn more about partnership opportunities, contact Shelton Walker, chief of staff and associate VP for strategic initiatives, at firstname.lastname@example.org.