The PAFA // Field Trip

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; March 17; Processions, the art of Norman Lewis


 

march20on20washingtonOn the afternoon of March 17 (a Thursday), I stumbled out of bed at noon with the leftovers of yesterday’s headache and an awful night’s sleep to visit the PAFA, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It was an odd crowd that day– on one hand there was a group of incredibly loud school children with clipboards who had come to learn and draw, and on the other hand a group of frowning old people. Although the children were loud and filled the museum with the kind of noise it ought not have, I was charmed and pleased that they possessed the opportunity to visit the museum at all.

I was at the museum because I had an assignment to visit the Norman Lewis exhibit. Norman Lewis was a painter in the mid 20th century, who although was prolific during his life, is often left out of modern art history. It’s quite sad, but the PAFA has compiled a comprehensive exhibit of his work.

My own personal aesthetics led me away from his more representative work (as much as one gets with someone associated closely with abstract expressionism) and towards the large-scale abstraction. I like large, bright things. I tend to favor color over form and stratification over the X composition of his more celebrated work.

Norman Lewis was loathe to admit it, but a large chunk of his work was politically charged. The PAFA exhibit is curated by theme, so all the Civil Rights works are grouped together and as a whole they are the most striking of his work. Sitting on a bench between Alabama, 1960 and A Journey to an End, I was unsettled, to say the least. And American Totem is the star of the show. It’s encased in glass in such a way that if I were a few inches taller, I would be wearing the white hood.

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Freaky.

Like all art, it’s better to see the work in person. The Norman Lewis runs for about another week or two longer, if you’re in the Philadelphia area and can come see it. The PAFA is free on Sunday to everyone during the exhibition run and all the time to students attending colleges in the area. Lewis really was a wonderful painter, and his strokes should be soon up close and personal. Plus, the PAFA is a wonderful little museum and is much easier to get to than the Fine Arts Museum. Oh, and there’s a cafe attached that sells good lattes.

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Field Trip! Wilma Theater, Philadelphia

Staying in my dorm all day is lousy, so I try to take myself on field trips around the city as something to do. Solo trips can be fun!

The school was kind enough to pay for a ticket to see Antigone at the Wilma Theater in Center City, Philadelphia. It’s kind of notorious for being an “artsy” theater, which, yeah. I’d agree with that. However, I’m into that kind of thing. My theater director in high school spent a lot of time dragging us around Boston to see shows, and we certainly saw some weird ones (Shockheaded Peter, anyone?)

The Wilma is beautiful. The facade itself harkens back to the past thirty years and is lovely, but I do wish the lobby was a bit bigger. Especially because they didn’t start seating until nearly 8, when the show was set to begin (they also specified no late seating, meaning most people were well early and had to stand around waiting). In the theater itself (holds 300) there’s not a bad seat in the house, and the light and sound systems are superb.

If you’ve never seen or read a more conventional version of Antigone, you probably would have no idea what was happening. In fact, the translation was so different– the performance is in both English and Greek– I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening and I read the play two days before I saw it. At times it certainly tries too hard to be unique and some very odd artistic choices are made. Spoilers, there’s a lot of spitting. While most people I talked to didn’t understand this choice at all, I (think?) I did. It’s a physical play, tackling the innately physical nature of suffering.

I could be making this all up, but we try to make sense out of what we see.

I was intrigued by the company, though. Overall, the performances were strong (even if Antigone suffered from Constantly Yelling Syndrome). Even better, the Wilma currently has a bold initiative to make theater affordable, meaning you can get tickets for $25 (general public) or $10 (students and theater professionals).

In conclusion: the Wilma is worth a visit even if to just appreciate the theater itself. It’s cheap as hell to see a play, and even if it’s weird and you don’t like, chances are a night out on the town will be fun anyways. To see the full catalog of shows, tickets, etc., visit the Wilma’s website.


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