Just in time for the Pope’s visit, and part of 2015’s Fringe Festival, Philadelphia Sculptors presented “Pope Up,” an exhibition of 2D and 3D works centered around all things “Popish.” From the traditional to the offbeat and humorous, the show presented contemporary artists’ approaches to religion and its meanings and interpretations. Located at Globe Dye Works at 4500 Worth St. in Philadelphia, the exhibition was open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays, September 5 and 6, 12 and 13, 19 and 20, and 26 and 27, with a public reception Sunday, September 20, noon – 5:00 pm.
The inspiration of Globe Dye Works’ partner Charlie Abdo, and juried by Independent Public Art Consultant Marsha Moss and Graphic Designer Mark Gallini, “Pope Up” draws in artists of all backgrounds and viewpoints. Handling religion isn’t for the faint of heart and the “Pope Up” artists spare no brushstroke, chisel, or technological device to skewer, applaud, and sometimes make us question what we believe in.
Artist Rachel Citrino, a self-identified ex-Catholic, explains her inspiration for her photographs “Nope” and “Pope.” “When I was a Catholic, we waited to see what color the smoke would be. When it was black it meant that God had not yet chosen His representative on earth. I had no idea that there were chemicals added to the burning fire or campaigns and voting going on. I really thought something mystical was taking place.”
Holly Smith acknowledges some of the positive doctrinal changes implemented by Pope Francis in her “Nun of Your Business.” Although it appears to be a scowling depiction of a nun looking through binoculars, she states that, “It is encouraging that the Catholic church has turned its primary focus on the poor and the environment, and is making a slow shift away from what people are doing in the privacy of their bedrooms.”
Other artists questioning the role and power of the Church include George Lorio and Stephanie Kirk. Lorio’s “His Church” is a golden church placed on top of an unstable stack of dominoes. Kirk delights in photographing the changing messages on church signs, from the straightforward to the ironic, using them as elements in her art. One sign shows just the sole letter “M” - perhaps a reference to McDonald’s as a new world religion?
Artists whose styles and messages are more traditional include Patick Cabry, whose belief in Catholicism helped him find “the true form within” in his carved marble representation of Pope Francis. In “Via Crucis,” Virginia Maksymowicz uses fragmented figures to portray the Stations of the Cross, encouraging visitors to question what constitutes religious belief and how it relates to the institutions that lay claim to it.
A number of the artists use feminism as the lens with which to view their work. Kathleen Vaccaro’s painting “David Was a Woman” presents a gender ambiguous image of David from the shoulders down. Sarah Barr uses video and documentary photographs to revisit the absence of women in the images shown in the journalistic coverage of the Church in the 1970’s. A recording of a song composed by Betsy Alexander for the Pope’s visit, “Help Us Mary,” adds an inspiring audio component.
Visitors to “Pope Up” will also be encouraged to browse the “Pope Up” Store. Stocked with Deanna McLaughlin’s POPEular products Pope Tote, Pope-ourri, Pope Soap, Guiding Light Candle, Pope-corn, and Pope-cicle, these items will make perfect gifts and snacks for the POPElic.
Artists: Rachel Citrino, Holly Smith, George Lorio, Stephanie Kirk, Patick Cabry, Virginia Maksymowicz, Kathleen Vaccaro, Sarah Barr, Clifford Bailey, Ellen Benson, Neil Benson, Jacintha Clark, Cheryl Harper, Harold Kalmus, Ann Keech, Sarah Legow, Jennifer Lipman-Bartel, Joan Menapace, Lisa Nanni, Andrew Purvis, Lou Serna, Simone Spicer & Georgette Veeder