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Monday, April 16, 2012

ICON City Beat Column, April 2012

City Beat, ICON Magazine, April 201

By Thom Nickels, City Beat Editor

Photography is everywhere in this intensely photographic city, from Zoe Strauss’ Ten Years exhibit, scheduled to end April 22 (Honickman and Berman Galleries, ground floor, PMA) to Adrian Abounce’s You are Beautiful exhibit, set to open April 6th at Ven & Vaida Gallery in Old City. Abounce, who hails from Columbia, says his first solo exhibit will focus on the effects of light and shadow. He calls his depiction of people, places and things as being “without illusions or distortions.” Trained in graphic design, Abounce has exhibited at the Ice Box Gallery in Northern Liberties’ Crane Building (2009) and had a Hispanic Heritage Month exhibit at the PECO building in 2008….The fever for all things visual continues with politico-turned-filmmaker Sam Katz’s Fever: 1793, about Philadelphia’s Yellow Fever epidemic that killed 5,000 and had 25,000 fleeing for their lives, including then President George Washington, his Cabinet and the entire U.S. Congress. This dramatic recreation of Philadelphia’s saddest moment had its premier at the Suzanne Robert’s Theater last month as part of Katz’s multi-series epic, Philadelphia: The Great Experiment. Look for Fever: 1793 showings this month.

A vaccine, of course, is the way to nip health disasters in the bud, but what about the earth? Earth Day was co- founded by notorious/convicted murderer Ira Einhorn in April 1970 when many loved to follow gurus, even if that meant forming long Kool-Aid lines. (Einhorn’s prison blog is mostly book reviews a la The New York Review of Books). For this Earth Day, Abby Sullivan of the Wagner Free Institute of Science (1700 W. Montgomery Avenue; 215-763-6529) tells me that the Philadelphia Science Festival will hold an Earth Day (April 22) panel discussion, Truth, Trust and Fracking. Don’t be put off by the fracky sound of this. “It will be less about the fracking debate,” Abby says, “and more about how we find, process, and trust information about complex issues that affect our lives.” It’s always been my belief that The Wagner should be the talk of the town every bit as much as the new Barnes.
Thomas Eakins, the persecuted Philly-prophet artist who had the misfortune of being born ahead of his time, lay in an unmarked grave for decades before he was given a marker and a reputation overhaul. Eakins is the subject of a new play by Bill Cain, the first recipient of the Philadelphia Theater Company’s Terrence McNally New Play Award. Cain’s play, Unvarnished (working title), is the story of the artist’s perseverance in the wake of many obstacles…”Including,” McNally says, “humiliation, and rejection even in his hometown of Philadelphia.” Look for workshops and a possible production of the play at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre sometime in the future. Speaking of outcasts-turned-heroes, after a long and successful run in New York, the Mauckingnird Theatre Company will stage Jon Maran’s 2009 play, The Temperamentals, about pre-Stonewall Manhattan society, at the Skybox, The Adrienne Theatre (April 11-29th). This story of the early Mattachine Society in the age of Joe McCarthy (Rick Santorum’s energy source) portrays what it was like to be gay while the world was rocking to Elvis Presley. I saw the first trial run of Maran’s play in New York two years ago and will never forget the prolonged standing ovation.
“Firebird” Igor Stravinsky may have cornered the musical market when it comes to The Rite of Spring, but the Fairmount Park Art Association is dedicating April to the rediscovery of the city’s wealth of outdoor sculpture. One of the more festive tributes will be a tango dance party in Logan Circle to celebrate the turning on of water in the Swann Memorial Fountain. You don’t need a half shell Venus de Milo costume to join in, but you may need a flashlight for another FPAA April offering, a “flashlight mob” that will illuminate the Iroquois sculpture near PMA.(
Art, it is true, may be anything you can get away with; it’s also something you can do at lunch…..PAFA has extraordinary hour-long Wednesday lectures beginning at 12 noon… condensed, biting and boredom-free, Philly artist Moe Brooker recently drew a packed crowd there, many munching tuna or salmon sandwiches from the museum cafĂ©. As a former dyed-in-the-wool Art-at-lunch skeptic, I saw the light when Vanessa Bender (daughter of famous Philadelphia Forsenic sculptor, Frank Bender, convinced me to go). On April 11, PAFA Art-at-lunch will present City as Spectacle: Visual Illusion and the Early Philadelphia Theater. Wendy Bellion, an Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Delaware, will take you on a tour of art exhibition theater lobbies in pre-1811 Philadelphia.
April’s museum of the month has to be The Philadelphia History Museum at Atwater Kent. Charles Croce, who for years weaved his special brand of PR and Marketing magic at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is now doing the same thing at the Kent. Croce recently showed me the museum’s two new gallery spaces, Phase I of an extensive renovation scheduled for completion this summer. Of special note is the design of the museum’s reception desk, made out of original wood from Independence Hall. Don’t forget to check out Joe Frazier’s boxing gloves (1970) on display in the Phase One gallery. Famous fighters don’t come along everyday, but I’ve been told that a former professional boxer and friend of Frazier’s can now be seen begging for small change in Center City. If I ever get this man’s name and story, I’ll be sure to share.