Show and tell


Challenge Exhibition
Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial
719 Catharine St.
Through Feb. 8
Taken By Design: Photographs from the Institute of Design, 1937-1971
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street
Through March 2
Museum admission: $10 general; $7 seniors, students and ages 5-18; pay what you wish on Sundays

The importance of art schools and institutions as integral parts of a complete art community is being demonstrated, aptly enough, at two Philadelphia museums.

The Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial is known for being the country’s oldest and largest free and low-tuition visual-arts program, as well as for fostering new talent with its landmark Challenge Exhibitions. The Fleisher is presenting Challenge number three for its 25th anniversary. The featured artists are Michael Miller, Lori Spencer and Karen Stone. The show runs through Feb. 8.

cross town at the Philadelphia Art Museum, the fruits of the innovative Institute of Design from Chicago are being shown in a comprehensive exhibit of American photographers who worked and studied at the Institute from 1937 to 1971. Those dates encompass the founding of the school and the departure of Aaron Siskind, an influential photographer and teacher.

"Taken By Design: Photographs from the Institute of Design, 1937-1971," includes the works of more than 50 photographers, some of them among the finest American artists in their fields. The show runs through March 2.

The Fleisher was founded in 1898 as the Graphic Sketch Club by the namesake businessman to provide for arts education and training for low-income adults and children. Over the years, the organization has grown to include art exhibitions, concerts and care and restoration of historic buildings, as well as a continued instructional program. Since the death of Samuel Fleisher in 1945, the Art Memorial has been administered by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The three artists in the current show appear to be asking the viewer to "finish" their work by filling in the blanks of a narrative. Miller creates light shows with glass cubes, light rays and variously shaped boxes that seem to be left over from a television delivery-truck accident. In looking through the maze and the scattered boxes, one seems to want to find logic, however whimsical. Miller graduated from Kutztown University and the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Spencer uses computer-scanned photographs and drawings and then prints them on a large-format ink-jet printer. The images are situated in such a way as to bring in the viewer, but also to cut off any attempt to fully engage the image. Spencer graduated from the State University of New York and the University of the Arts.

Stone’s installation of worn shoe soles and heels is oddly emotional on two levels. One can’t help but wonder about the circumstances of collecting the materials and, at the same time, is struck by how deeply personal worn footgear can be. The materials are lined up like the pathway of a child’s board game and the viewer finds it difficult to resist the draw to follow the path. Stone graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute and the University of Colorado.

The other school, the Institute of Design in Chicago, served as the American outpost of the Bauhaus, Germany’s legendary experimental school of art, design and architecture. The Bauhaus originated the "less-is-more" concept.

The photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art are much more familiar as they are the work of some of the best photographers in our history. They include Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Harry Callahan, Ray K. Metzker, William Larson, Kenneth Josephson, Arthur Siegel, Thomas Barrow, Linda Connor, Eileen Cowin, Barbara Crane, Yasuhiro Ishimoto, Joseph Jachna, Gyorgy Kepes, Nathan Lerner, Richard Nickel, Art Sinsabaugh, Barbara Blondeau and Thomas Porett.

The peak years at the Institute found a new and wide range of concepts being formulated about light, form and a new abstraction that dramatically impacted American photography. Katherine Ware, the museum’s curator of photographs, said the show has a "special resonance in Philadelphia."

"The Institute of Design has had a major role in the training of artists whose work has an important presence in the photography collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and museums across the world. From the innovative work of Moholy-Nagy to Callahan’s distinctive landscapes and the powerful work of Philadelphia master Ray Metzker, the photographs that emerged from the Institute of Design have expanded the artistic possibilities of photography."

In addition to the master photographers in the show, the school also trained teachers whose future work would expand the impact and influence of the Institute’s artistic principles and educational philosophy.