Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Launches Summer Season with Contemporary Works by Philadelphia Artists

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) presents Urbanism: Reimagining the Lived Environment, contemporary works by Philadelphia artists Arden Bendler Browning, the Dufala Brothers, Ben Peterson, and Amy Walsh, on view July 2 – September 4, 2011.

A cradle for American art for over two centuries, Philadelphia is a city where hundreds of artists live and where hundreds more are being trained in its art schools and universities. Philadelphia is also a center that, over the past decade, has attracted artists away from other major cities, providing not only a richly supportive artistic community but also affordable working spaces and good transport and communications.

“The city provides a dynamic and vital environment that can be perceived in much of the work that is currently emerging from artists’ studios,” says Julien Robson, PAFA’s Curator of Contemporary Art. “In this context, Urbanism provides an opportunity to look at the work of a group of emerging artists from Philadelphia whose ideas develop out of the urban space and the objects that occupy it.”

Reflecting the disorderliness of urban experience, Arden Bendler Browning’s imaginations of the city are sprawling paintings where dynamically fractured space suggests the noise and movement of a vivid urban existence. Drawing on impressions of places, photographs, and memories, as well as exploring street views on Google maps, the artist renders the city as an abstraction where recognizable forms struggle to come to the surface only to be subsumed in a melee of interlocking perspectives. Painted on Tyvek and hung freely without frames, these works have a scale and immediacy that both envelops and energizes the viewer. Born in Philadelphia, Arden Bendler Browning studied at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Sydney College of the Arts in Australia, and was awarded an MFA in 2003 from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia.

Employing a variety of media, Steven and Billy Blaise Dufala, known as the Dufala Brothers, create three-dimensional works that touch upon the absurd, giving new meaning to discarded and homeless objects as well as refashioning the everyday in ways that are unexpected and humorous. Here, a dumpster can become a coffin and a toilet bowl can be transformed into the seat of a tricycle. In this repurposing of common objects the Dufala Brothers question not only the nature and logic of consumer culture, but they also challenge us to think again about what art is and what it can be. Born in Philadelphia, Steven Dufala and Billy Blaise Dufala both studied at PAFA. They are both on the teaching staff of PAFA.

Ben Peterson’s large-scale drawings picture environments where elaborate and highly detailed architecture and landscape maintain a temporary quality, leaning toward instability. Yet, while they resemble architectural renderings of a suburban dream, on close inspection the seeming orderliness of Peterson’s idyllic images of roads, homes, and gardens becomes playfully disrupted as the visual edges of his imaginary world lift and buckle. As if the slightest gust of wind might blow them away, the weightlessness of these beautifully rendered environments is unsettling, suggesting an assembly line world that runs the risk of fast becoming obsolete. Born in Hawthorne, Nevada, Ben Peterson received a BFA from California College of the Arts in 2004. He moved to Philadelphia in 2006.

Amy Walsh’s sculptures allow us to look inside her ramshackle architectural constructions, made of cardboard and wood, toward their humble and labyrinthine interiors. Using discarded and found materials these exquisitely detailed objects evoke the familiar environment of gutted homes and abandoned warehouses. Walsh’s translation of scale imbues her sculptures with an intimacy and vulnerability while restricting access beyond what can be seen through the windows and peepholes that puncture the exteriors. Walsh was born in Boston and, after studying at the Amsterdamse Hogeschool vor de Kunsten in Holland and the University of Massachussetts in Amherst, in 2006 she graduated with an MFA from PAFA. She is currently on the teaching staff of both PAFA and Temple University.

“Ironically, as Google maps and satellite views have made us realize how interconnected we are, artists have become more aware of the unique qualities of specific places. Urbanism provides a fascinating look at the urban environment today,“ remarks Harry Philbrick, The Edna S. Tuttleman Director of the Museum.

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