Local artists Eileen Neff and Diane Burko have stuffed a gallery in the Crane Arts Center with the artwork of 67 artists, chosen from a pool of about 2,000 entries. Considering that female artists are widely underrepresented in gallery spaces, it’s a radical move to feature art only by female-identified people (who also happen to be age 35 or older). The result is Old Enough to Know Better, an energizing, maximalist show that includes art of all kinds: paintings, drawings, prints, photography, sculpture, and video installation, employing every sort of form, scale, topic, and subject, all reflecting the stubbornness and resilience essential to female artists pursuing their vocation.
Along with the thread of persistence that ties the work together, the exhibition’s title validates the wisdom and respect that comes with age. The title can also be read as subversive, if assumed to be a scolding: If one knows that art is a silly pursuit, and goes for it anyway, is that foolish? Or perhaps the title is more of a badge of honor and pride: Does the artist know better for having made art (and know better than whomever designates artmaking as foolish)? In any case, to be persistent is to have gumption, strength, and conviction, and the exhibition oozes with admiration for the artists and the work shown — the viewers can’t help but be swept into the liveliness of the space.
Each of the individual works engages the viewer in its own created world. Virginia Maksymowicz’s sculpture She Talks Too Much is unsettling: a white head mounted flush to the wall shows lines of tension while coughing out random, perfect little white letters. A “screw you” to those who say she talks too much, or a kiss-off to those who themselves talk too much? A video on a 24-second loop by Diedra Krieger called This is not walking in an exaggerated manner around the perimeter of a square (a nod to René Magritte’s painting The Treachery of Images, which states “This is not a pipe”) is literally grounded in realism: a woman pushes a stroller around in a circle, and she’s shot from the ground up. Hetty Baiz’s Not Knowing features a figure’s body, just slightly smaller than life, as it seems to emerge from the canvas, radiating with layers of paper and colored ink.
Overlaps and divergence
As a group, the works are in dialogue with one another. Themes and motifs overlap in content and diverge in approach: Artists investigate age and youth, the body, nature, and everyday objects in many ways. The viewer takes on extreme perspectives in Maureen O’Keefe’s pastel drawing, Oral Exam #2, in which we peer as a dentist would into a person’s mouth, and in Carla Falb’s painting, Ghost Rider: Please Remain Seated, wherein the viewer finds herself thrown off-kilter and shooting down a roller coaster track. Emily Brown’s sumi work, Thicket 15, depicts a tree-filled forest using brushstrokes of black ink on white paper, and, although it’s across the room, it echoes the understated chaos of Sarah Nguyen’s white papercut, Tongue Cut Sparrow and Maple Tree, which unfurls from the ceiling to the floor.
Placed side by side, Bridget O’Rourke’s Rosie and Gail Watkins’s Comics and Chromosomes explore the processes of becoming and unbecoming, the old and the new: layers of paint, sketches, color, and, in Watkins’s case, comics, build up the surface and then are sanded away. The Four Winds, Holly Smith’s papier-mâché sculpture of a woman walking four dogs, is in dialogue with Simone Spicer’s sleeping figure sculpture, Street Person I, made of corrugated cardboard. The latter is placed directly behind the former, and together, the sculptures recall city streets with people going about their business: Perhaps a lady walks her dogs right past a person sleeping on the sidewalk. The webs one can weave among the artworks are seemingly endless.
Giving birth to art
Old Enough to Know Better creates enthusiasm for artwork and for women making art in Philly, whether or not their work was shown here. With a show by only women, one can’t help but think of artmaking as a generative ability akin to but different from biological reproduction, as the offspring in this case are purely original creations. And although femaleness is wrapped around everything in the gallery, it is also beside the point, taken for granted as gender is taken for granted — normally not even a thought in the mind — in gallery spaces dominated by male artists. The point is the work and the effect: You enter the gallery; you peruse; time passes; you age; you see good art — and it’s better than good. Now you’re old enough to know better, too.