Philadelphia Art Alliance Blog

Philip Tinari Speaking at PAA on Thursday, October 3

By Sarah Archer

philiptinari2Philip Tinari originally hails from the Philadelphia region (he’s an alum of St. Joseph’s Prep) but you’ll rarely find him in the Western hemisphere these days. He is currently the director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, where he oversees an exhibition program devoted to presenting the work of both established figures and rising talents in Chinese contemporary art. UCCA welcomes more than half a million visitors each year. Prior to joining UCCA, Tinari was editor-in-chief of LEAP, the international art magazine of contemporary China, which he founded and ran from 2009 to 2011. He has worked as China representative for Art Basel, as a contributing editor to Artforum, and as a lecturer in art criticism at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts. Tinari, who speaks fluent Mandarin, holds degrees from Duke and Harvard, and was a Fulbright fellow at Peking University.

I first had the chance to meet Phil in 2010 during the National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference when he gave a talk at Arcadia University in conjunction with the Ai Weiwei exhibition Dropping the Urn, which was organized by Richard Torchia and Gregg Moore. Phil’s talk was, quite simply, one of the best art lectures I have ever seen. Distilling a complex cultural history that concerned porcelain manufacturing, tourism, revolution, censorship, and the destruction of cultural heritage, into a cogent, concise analysis of Ai Weiwei’s artistic practice and persona, Phil’s overview was at once scholarly and accessible. I walked out of the auditorium feeling as though I had been on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to China with a phenomenal tour guide.

We were lucky enough to find Phil on the east coast during the run of The Way of Chopsticks and he will give a talk here on October 3 at 7pm about the contemporary art community in Beijing, of which Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen are key participants. He was an advisor for this project from its earliest stages, and will contribute an essay to the exhibition catalog which is scheduled for publication in December.

Learn a bit more about his curatorial practice and views of China’s emerging artists by viewing “ON|OFF: The Double Consciousness of China’s Newest Generation of Artists,” a talk he gave on March 11, 2013 at the Vancity Theatre in Vancouver. The talk was part of the Asia Contemporary Speaker Series, presented in partnership by the Canadian Art Foundation and the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

Click here to reserve your seat!The Way of Chopsticks has been supported by Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from the Mindspring Foundation, and the Asian Cultural Council. For a complete list of The Way of Chopsticks events, click here.


To request photos, interviews and more information, please contact: Canary Promotion, 215-690-4065; Carolyn Huckabay, To download a copy of the press release, click here.

The Philadelphia Art Alliance is open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. (closed on Mondays). Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors and free for members. For more information, please call 215-545-4302.

Sarah Archer is Senior Curator at PAA.


Basement Press: Joseph Pennell’s Scenes of Philadelphia, Remixed

Basement Press and the Philadelphia Art Alliance are pleased to present limited edition, hand-pulled and hand-colored prints by artist Eli VandenBerg!

Pennell and Eli

PAA staff recently rediscovered a treasure trove of old letterpress blocks depicting scenes of historic Philadelphia that date from the 1920s.  Many of these blocks were created by etcher, lithographer, and illustrator Joseph Pennell (above, left) who was born on July 4th, 1857 in Philadelphia.  Pennell studied at the Philadelphia Industrial Art School (now University of the Arts) and at the Pennsylvania Academy of  Fine Art.  He lived much of his life in London where he taught at the Slade School of Art.  Pennell was a friend and colleague of James McNeill Whistler, and published a biography of the artist in 1908 with his wife Elizabeth Robins Pennell.


Each block is cast in lead or copper and mounted on a wooden backing, lovely objects in their own right. The blocks were originally used to create various printed material for PAA, including newsletters, calendars, and souvenir postcards.

Basement Press, a collaboration between Eli VandenBerg (above, right) and Katie Baldwin, has teamed up with PAA to bring these blocks back to life. You can now purchase your very own print here in our Shop! They are individually hand-colored, and each one depicts a landmark or neighborhood in Philadelphia and environs. Rich in detail and period charm, they are atmospheric and lovely.

We hope Mr. Pennell would be proud.


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Here and There: Dualities in Sabrina Gschwandtner’s Film Quilts

by Sarah Archer

Philadelphia’s Ritt­enhouse Square, a geometric touchstone in the center of an old, well-crafted American city, is a fitting location for the first exhibition of Sabrina Gschwandtner’s film quilts in Pennsylvania. About eighty miles west of Philadelphia, the Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum holds a renowned collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century quilts made by the German and Swiss settlers whose culture, food, clothing, and decorative arts are now instantly recognizable as “Pennsylvania Dutch.” Amish and Mennonite women have made extraordinary quilts in this region for over two centuries, balancing a religious mandate to live simply and separately with a bold, distinctive sense of geometry, pattern, and color, plainly evident in their work. Though in certain contexts their creations could stand toe-to-toe with paintings by Frank Stella, the quilters’ gendered and religious anonymity means we will likely never know their identities.

For several reasons, an Amish quilter transported through time and space from nineteenth-century Lancaster County to twenty-first-century Philadelphia would probably find one of Gschwandtner’s film quilts unintelligible, not least because the technology of film (obsolete though it may be, from our point of view) would be a foreign concept. More importantly, they are “nonfunctional” in the purely domestic understanding of the word. Made from acetate or polyester, materials that could not be less cozy, they lack the raison d’être of most quilts: comfort. Gschwandtner’s creations offer a subtle rebuke to the notion that in order to be valid, women’s labor must be of use to someone, or, more specifically, should serve the well-being of their families. Gschwandtner’s quilts decouple the relationship between the personal, tactile pleasure of creation and the domestic utility of a quilt, as bedclothes or even decor. Looking at Amish quilts today, I wonder if quilters “got away with” spending so much time and effort on their quilts because their ultimate use was the perfect embodiment of maternal duty. Perhaps they did, and perhaps the very act of quilting was consciously subversive. Alas, we will never know.

“Quilts in Women’s Lives,” Copyright 1981 by Ferrero Films

In the 1960s and 1970s, a growing awareness of the vast reservoirs of unattributed female labor (the products of which are evident all around us) inspired feminist filmmakers, artists, and craftspeople to capture, record, and interpret activities such as quilting. This visual legacy forms yet another distinct layer in Gschwandtner’s work. Pat Ferrero’s 1981 documentary Quilts in Women’s Lives, which features prominently in Gschwandtner’s piece of the same name, is a bit like a film quilt flipped inside out: the women Ferrero interviewed tell their quilting stories on camera one by one, and these narratives are stitched together to form a larger whole. The stories represent individual lines of technique and creative passion, in some cases passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter. In other cases, quilting is lauded, in pitch-perfect second-wave feminist style, as a physical demarcation of feminine space and place.


Detail, “Arts and Crafts,” 2012, 16 mm film, polyamide thread. 

Julia Bryan-Wilson points out in her interview with Gschwandtner that the artist’s film quilts cause the physical artifacts of the filmstrips to straddle two worlds: they exist simultaneously as translucent representations of another place and time and as physical objects in their own right. In that sense, they wryly nod to Gschwandtner’s own history as a semiotics student at Brown University in the late 1990s. Even as the quilts are present before us, they signify another physical reality altogether. They also reward close inspection and physical proximity. Though they glow radiantly in photographs, only by peering at them a few inches from the surface can a viewer behold the tiny narratives that form the quilts’ patterns. An astonishing array of “scenes” becomes visible in each quilt: lines of text, washes of color, and glimpses of the people featured in the various films modeling clothes or telling stories, disembodied, but still present, even highlighted.

Standing in the galleries at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, visitors may also be aware that they are inside a former domestic space, the Wetherill Mansion. What is now public was once private, which provides a very particular cultural and architectural subtext to every exhibition presented here. In so many ways, Gschwandtner’s film quilts embody dualities and invite viewers to revel in their complexities: light and dark, present and past, physical and ephemeral, soft cotton and tough polyester, traditional and conceptual, here and there.

“Sunshine and Shadow” is on view at PAA through August 18th. Later this summer, PAA will publish a catalog from the exhibition featuring an interview with the artist by Julia Bryan-Wilson, and an introduction by Glenn Adamson, photography by Matt Suib, Greenhouse Media, and designed by Will Work For Good. This catalog is made possible in part by LMAK Projects, New York.

Sarah Archer is Senior Curator at the PAA.

Parlor Shop Artist Profile: Devin McNutt from Saffron Designs

Philadelphia Art Alliance - Saffron DesignsSaffron Creations is a line of exquisite art deco style jewelry from Devin McNutt, a local Philadelphia jeweler. Devin handcrafts her jewelry in a rather unusual way, which gives all of her works a fascinating story…

Philadelphia Art Alliance - Saffron DesignsThese beautiful trinkets are vintage with a twist: Each piece is handcrafted from vintage cookie, biscuit and tea tins! That’s right – these designs really are vintage, but have been lovingly re-purposed into stunning, fresh pieces of jewelry.

Philadelphia Art Alliance - Saffron DesignsDevin cuts out the tin pieces, rivets and stamps them, wraps wire and also attaches semi-precious stones. That means that each of these items is a unique work of art. No one piece is quite like another, and each work of art is like a little piece of history.

The Parlor Shop is open regularly Thursdays through Sundays, 12-5pm. The Parlor Shop is run by volunteers, and profits from sales go back to local artists and craftspeople, with a portion going to the Philadelphia Art Alliance’s fundraising efforts.

Parlor Shop Artist Profile: Lynn Hoffman

Philadelphia Art Alliance - Lynn HoffmanThese earthy, floral inspired works of pottery are created by local PA ceramicist Lynn Hoffman. Hoffman studied Illustration and Ceramics at the University of the Arts, and has both made and taught pottery for over 20 years.

Philadelphia Art Alliance - Lynn HoffmanThe wonderful pieces she has on display and for sale here at the Parlor Shop are glazed terracotta and stoneware. They are handmade from slabs which are rolled, formed, and then glazed in stages to allow the original colors of the clay to show through.

Philadelphia Art Alliance - Lynn HoffmanWe’re told they are super-durable, and can withstand most household abuse from freezing, microwaving and washing!

The Parlor Shop is open regularly Thursdays through Sundays, 12-5pm. The Parlor Shop is run by volunteers, and profits from sales go back to local artists and craftspeople, with a portion going to the Philadelphia Art Alliance’s fundraising efforts.

Parlor Shop Artist Profile: Elizabeth J McTear from SquidWhale Designs

Philadelphia Art Alliance - SquidWhale DesignsElizabeth McTear is a Moore College graduate with a joint love of textiles and the ocean, which you can certainly see in her fabulous works available here at our Parlor Shop!

Philadelphia Art Alliance - SquidWhale DesignsElizabeth designs and dyes unique nautical prints and produces a range of items, including scarves and clutches printed with fishermens’ nets.

Her deep blue nautical prints conjure up images of whale’s tails and adventures on the high seas, but she actually makes them right here in Philadelphia, and not while sailing on the open ocean!

Philadelphia Art Alliance - Squid Whale DesignsWhether you’re a landlubbing lover of local artistry, or an oceanfaring ol’ seadog, you’ll fall in love with Elizabeth’s cute bags.  We’re in a ‘knot’ over which one of these designs is our favorite!

The Parlor Shop is open regularly Thursdays through Sundays, 12-5pm. The Parlor Shop is run by volunteers, and profits from sales go back to local artists and craftspeople, with a portion going to the Philadelphia Art Alliance’s fundraising efforts.

Parlor Shop Artist Profile: Jennifer Lipman-Bartel

Parlor Shop at Philadelphia Art Alliance - Jennifer Lipman-BartelPhiladelphia local Jennifer Lipman-Bartel is a woman of many talents and a fantastic sense of humor. By day she and her husband run a business that manufactures and sells hobby model kits for ships and trains. Their clients include SEPTA, and their work has even been featured on television.

But at the Parlor Shop you won’t find miniature railways. Instead, Jennifer has specially crafted a selection of beautiful dainty earrings, and we’re proud to stock them just for you!

Philadelphia Art Alliance - Jennifer Lipman-BartelJennifer makes each petal of these metal flowers one by one, by hand, creating tiny steel roses adorned with fun colors and beads.

These works reflect her background in both steel sculpture and jewelry-making: She studied at PAFA and Moore here in Philadelphia, and has had her work featured all over the city. As a cancer survivor, Jennifer also works hard to raise funds for organizations and charities in the Delaware Valley that provide support to people with cancer and disabilities.

Philadelphia Art Alliance - Jennifer Lipman BartelJennifer is also known for creating extravagant necklaces and custom pieces, and even she admits they’re unusual! But these tiny earrings are a little simpler than her usual work. They are perfect little gifts for jewelry aficionados, and they won’t break the bank (honestly).

The Parlor Shop is open regularly Thursdays through Sundays, 12-5pm. The Parlor Shop is run by volunteers, and profits from sales go back to local artists and craftspeople, with a portion going to the Philadelphia Art Alliance’s fundraising efforts.