The art of the Kimmel Center

You call this a welcome?

Is it asking too much of the Kimmel Center that the art on temporary exhibition in the lobby should aspire to the quality of the music heard in the concert halls? The Philadelphia Orchestra is top-notch; foreigners come here just to attend one of their concerts. Why can’t the art on view strive to attain such heights?

"The Slow and Inevitable Death of American Muscle"

It all began well. I seem to remember colorful banners casting warm vibes across the lobby and first-rate art purchased for their permanent collection. Some of these pieces are now on view on the tiers: Arlene Love’s “Eight Figures” (1986, cast in bronze 2003); Moe Brooker’s abstract painting “Everything Is On the Way to Somewhere” (2003, oil, oil stick, and encaustic on wood panel) and Stuart Netsky’s “Monet’s Haystacks” (billboard flickers on plastic panel on wood, 1991).

Currently in the lobby we have “The Slow and Inevitable Death of American Muscle,” a sculpture by the American artist Jonathan Schipper, born in California, but now New York based. It consists of two full-sized automobiles, stripped of their innards (we hope). Placed on mechanized rubber belts, they are timed, over a 90-day period, to advance 3/4” a day until they crash into one another. (You can watch the artwork in real time here.) Since a car often is considered one’s alter ego, this memento mori abruptly returns us to reality, just when we were floating on air from the beautiful music. Is this festive note what we deserve?

I spent some time observing people react to the piece during intermissions. Women glance at it and turn away quickly. Is it too close to the reality of their teenagers out in the family car? Young men walk over, read the label, and briefly look at the mechanism. Everyone else seems to pretend it is not there — right in front of the long information desk.

Since this exhibition is only temporary (on view until sometime in February), we can hope for something next time that will enhance the space, stimulate the senses, and perhaps even inspire us to think. Philadelphia is not only a city of great music by great musicians, but we also have excellent art schools and museums. The Kimmel Center is a public institution. Surely it can utilize all these cultural assets, adding to its own luster and enhancing all of Philadelphia.

Originally, the Kimmel Center had aspirations of becoming the Center City “meet and greet” location for all cultural-minded urbanites from Philadelphia and beyond. Unfortunately, that has not yet happened. With all the excellent artists in Philadelphia, why should we have to endure this depressing image of an ugly car crash? Let’s take advantage of our own resources.

Can food and drink be the magnet? Volver, the new restaurant by the Iron Chef Jose Garces, will occupy the site of the former bookstore/gift shop with its entrance from Spruce Street. Famous for his 16-course dinners, Mr. Garces is planning to perform here several times a week. Can this transform the ambiance of the lobby into a lively location with positive vibes? “Eat, drink, and be merry” — I am rooting for this to happen.

Three cheers to Mr. Garces and the future of the arts in Philadelphia.

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