May 13 – July 12, 2019Art Gallery at City Hall, City Hall Room 116Juror: Gaby HeitReception: May 15, 5:30-7:30 p.m. in City Hall Room 202, RSVP here
Art In City Hall, an initiative of the City’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, presents Visual Democracy, a juried art exhibition celebrating the 200th birthday of Walt Whitman, a literary giant often referred to as America’s “first poet of democracy”. The exhibition is part of a region-wide initiative organized by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, and presents an opportunity to reinsert Whitman and his poetry into today’s national conversations on democratic values. Recognizing the important role artists play in igniting dialogue, the call for entries asked artists to respond to Whitman’s epic poem, “Song of Myself” and to submit works that reflect contemporary social issues.
The selections were made by an independent curator and former Exhibitions Chair of the American Institute for Graphic Arts – Philadelphia, Gaby Heit. In an effort to paint a broad range of artistic expressions that capture many of Whitman’s themes, including universality, diversity and more, Ms. Heit selected the work of 30 local artists. Visual Democracy is located on the first floor of City Hall in its art gallery in Room 116. A joint reception coinciding with Literary Arts Week in Philadelphia is scheduled for May 15th beginning in the Mayor’s Reception Room, Room 202, from 5:30 – 7 p.m. Registration for the free event is requested.
Featured Artists:P. Ann AkifTim BartonSandra BenhaimSilvère BoureauCarol ColeFrancesca CostanzoConstance CulpepperVernyce DannellsJeleata Nicole DavisJessica EldredgeUta FellechnerMindy FlexerPatricia GoodrichGary GrissomAnn HartzellE. Sherman HaymanBrian HearnsKaren Hunter McLaughlinFrederic KaplanHee Sook KimGloria KlaimanKelly McQuainSteven MogckJanus OurmaBhavisha PatelJonathan PinkettDonna QuinnWilliam TimminsAndrea WallsKeisha Whatley
Each artist in Visual Democracy connected with one of the many themes from “Song of Myself” or drew inspiration from lines and passages from the poem. For Artist Tim Barton, his piece Recycled, an assemblage of personal objects, presents the themes of universality and time.
Tim Barton:“One of the main themes in “Song of Myself” is how Whitman is connected to everything in the universe. He is everything and everything is him and it is constantly being reused over and over. That’s what my piece is about. I came into this world as parts from everything before me. Even on just a genetic basis, my code is an amalgam of the entire genetic code of humankind. As we live, experience happens and shapes us. We are constantly recycling parts of ourselves. Then when we leave this world, we nourish the grass and trees, continuing to be recycled. The piece is also a recycling or repurposing of old items…When a person approaches life knowing everything and everyone is universally connected, it changes how they look at democracy and equality. “
Carol Cole’s mixed media sculpture, Freedom of the Press, is her call to action, and visually expresses the same pride and hope for America that she finds in Whitman’s poetry.
Carol Cole:“Reading “Song of Myself”, I am struck with how viscerally Whitman conjures up the essence of America. A century and a half later, after the 2016 election, I felt this America was under threat and I was inspired to create a body of work called “Words Matter” affirming some traditional American values.
Visual Democracy is on display through July 12, 2019.
Image credit: Tim Barton, Recycled, found object assemblage, 7” x 12.5” x 2.5”; Carol Cole, Freedom of the Press, mixed media, handmade paper, antique wood type.