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DVAA’s newest exhibition questions social structures, politics and authority

The exhibition was juried by Moore College of Art and Design professor Alice Oh.

Lite Beer by Travis Donovan

A simple gander around the Da Vinci Art Alliance’s latest exhibition, Subversion, reveals the true authority Philadelphia has on the world of contemporary art. The showing, which is a collaboration between DVAA and Philadelphia Sculptors, features local artists who confront and question everything from politics, gun rights and violence to art history and the art world, gender norms, social problems and environmental threats through their sculptures. It was juried by Moore College of Art and Design professor Alice Oh. 

“I think that when we proposed this it was about how I think we’re living in a very challenging time – young and old and people in their middle ages,” said Oh. “There’s just so many questions out there about what is right, what is wrong or where we are going with our environmental issues.”

Oh said much of her curation centered around surrealism.

“I wanted it to be as much about asking questions about the work itself rather than just walking away with something that’s very one dimensional.”

Trash Talk, Head of Trump by Simone Spicer

Much of the work is outwardly political, including Trash Talk, Head of Trump, a piece by Simone Spicer, which consists of the head of Donald Trump made out of used and cut apart laundry detergent bottles.

Another piece, Eleanor Levie’s Trumpasourus Rex, is a quilt emblazoned with a smiling green dinosaur with Trump’s haircut. On the quilt is a humorous depiction of the Trumpasourus Rex trampling over the United States Constitution.

Oh said she wanted to select work that questions “the system,” and what is political. When she was selecting pieces for the show, she told SPR that she wanted to define what the word “subversion” meant to her. For Oh, it meant incorporating humor.

“Humor was important for me,” she said. “There are a couple pieces where comedy came out. I think it’s important because it gets through to people much better.”

Breathe by Nicholli Matheny

But Oh also wanted to challenge people by making them think about important topics like the state of the environment. No piece of work better reflected this than Nicholli Matheny’s Breathe. Breathe consists of a brass and copper breathing mask situated upon a pile of bituminous coal. The piece is situated closer to the ground, below the viewer’s eye level.

“The perspective in relation to eye level is super important,” Oh said. “It’s such a different experience in terms of feeling the gravity. It’s very unique. It’s not true so much with two-dimensional [artwork], but when it comes to 3D installations, it’s always an issue when you deal with the gravity and the weight of it. Is it light or is it fluffy or is it something that feels heavy?”

Lite Beer by Travis Donovan

One of the more fascinating pieces of work in the exhibition is Travis Donovan’s Lite Beer, which features a crumpled can of Pabst Blue Ribbon appearing to magically float and oscillate upon its pedestal.

“There’s something about kinetic art,” Oh said. “When you think about it you go, ‘Oh, it’s a beer can.’ But it’s not just a beer can. It’s actually floating in space in a way where there’s some other mechanic [element] to it.”

Oh called the piece “a transformation of what you have into something unique and different.”

“It’s a great practice of bringing science and engineering and art altogether in a nontraditional way of thinking about what sculpture is.”

Subversion will be on view in Galleries 1 & 2 at DVAA, 704 Catharine St., until March 22.

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