A Year of Inspiration: 2015 Edition

17 Dec 2015


Janet Echelman, \1.8\" woven sculpture

As we near the end of 2015, we invited Center colleagues, collaborators, and grantees to share a memorable and inspiring cultural experience. What invigorated the senses, challenged perceptions, and sparked imaginations? See what our network had to say, and share your picks with us on Twitter (@PewCenterArts).

Bill Adair, Director, Exhibitions & Public Interpretation, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

The exhibition of Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series at MoMA was an exuberant illumination of a dynamic and complicated time in US history. MoMA did a fantastic job of showing the many cultural contexts swirling around the creation of this stunning work.

Argeo Ascani, Curator for Music, The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Ensemble Modern's performance of Mozart's "Gran Partita" and Lachenmann's "Concertini" at the Cresc Bienniale elicited such frequent audible sounds of awe from the audience, that one would be forgiven for thinking they were part of this sparkling performance. Really special.

Bill Bissell, Director, Performance, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

John Holiday, countertenor, in Opera Lafayette's staging of Antonio Vivaldi's Catone in Utica. His voice is a passionate golden sword, and he gave an imperious performance as Julius Caesar. This performance reminded me of how rare it is for a singer to be unafraid to live at the end of what is possible with their voice. Delphine Seyrig in the late Chantal Akerman's 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles was another example of a performer's fearlessness that holds you tight and will not let go for days. I knew of Akerman's video installations and had heard about her films, but this was my first encounter with this powerful and emotionally complex work. Delphine Seyrig's performance will stay with me as long as I remember.

Rob Blackson, Director, Temple Contemporary

The "Pop" floor of the exhibition America Is Hard to See at the new Whitney Museum of American Art. I've never been much of a fan of Pop. But walking onto the floor and straight into a Claes Oldenburg cigarette butt stubbed out in the corner has re-lit the fire for me.

Silvana Cardell, Director, Cardell Dance Theater

Pepón Osorio's reFORM presented at Temple Contemporary was a revealing experience; the video installation was particularly overwhelming. Individual student's depictions, framed and placed at your eye level, seemed to look at you repeating: Now you listen! This simple message urged me to connect to their experience. I was moved by how the students, through Osorio's clarity of the subject matter, were able to express the present moment as well as the urgent state of their situation.

Christoph Cox, Professor of Philosophy, Hampshire College

Ernst Karel's Morning and Other Times, a recent surround-sound piece presented by the artist at "The Third Work: Sound/Image/Interaction" symposium at Hunter College. Karel manages the Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL) and is a sound artist at the forefront of the thriving field of recording movement. I am consistently astonished by the work that comes out of the SEL and, particularly, by the sound designs Karel has produced for SEL films, which put sound on equal par with image—something rare in the history of film and video.

Micah Danges, Visual Artist, 2015 Pew Fellow

2015 has been an incredible year filled with inspiring Philadelphia experiences. It's tough to name just one. Ariel Kamal and Robert Aiki Lowe's performance at Bartram's Garden; Kali Yuga Zoo Brigade's "Standard Operating Procedure/Signal Ghost/Saturnalia" at Crane Arts; Gabriel Boyce's Shirts and Stones at Vox Populi Gallery; and Becky Suss' self-titled exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art were some of my favorites.

Simon Dove, Independent Curator, Crossing the Line festival, NYC

This plate was part of an incredible tasting menu I encountered last year by Chef Atsushi Tanaka at his restaurant, AT, in Paris. He is a young Japanese chef whose unique work emerges from a continuous exploration of the world around him—the city, the season, his cultural heritage, his current cultural context, the architecture, the light, etc. A shining example of a great contemporary artist, and outrageously delicious, too!

Anna Drozdowski, Independent Curator

Three thoughts for last season: (1) Team Sunshine's retreat reminded me to set a firm foundation, in order to build meaningful cultural experiences influenced by both city and country; (2) The Dufala brothers offered another new angle for old thoughts and objects with Waste Dreams at Fleisher Ollman Gallery; (3) Kristy Edmunds' words inspired, provoked and delighted equally.

Melissa Franklin, Director, Pew Fellowships, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

Claudia Rankine's most recent book, Citizen: An American Lyric. Using poetry, prose and images, Citizen chronicles the everyday racism that is so pervasive in this country. Citizen is powerful, moving, thoughtful, fearless, and urgent.

Germaine Ingram, Dancer and Choreographer, 2010 Pew Fellow

Bronx Gothic, a solo performance created and performed by Okwui Okpokwasili with director Peter Born, at New York Live Arts. A raw, profane, and exhausting engagement with the memory of being a Nigerian girl growing up in the Bronx. A wrenching evocation of the elixir of endearment, meanness, sexual curiosity, jealousy, insecurity, bravado—sometimes self-hatred—that was a black girl's world. I'll see it again when it comes to FringeArts in 2016.

Kelly Kivland, Assistant Curator, Dia Art Foundation

Maria Hassabi's PLASTIC at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Expanding and elongating what the form of dance can be, Hassabi's stirring interventions on the steps and open lobby of the Hammer's outdoor passageways unapologetically interrupted the complacency of one's viewing experience. The four performers' seemingly languid movements provoked questions around immediacy, gesture, and rhythm, using the body to create resonant images reflecting a fearless perseverance.

Ken Lum, Artist

An iteration of Adrian Piper's 2003 work "Everything will be taken away". It was part of a show at Haverford College on the Berlin Wall, and I attended with my young son. It consisted of a cut out from the gallery wall, and my son was enthralled with it, asking me to explain the work to him. It was difficult to explain, but the process made me think about art anew.

Chris Madak, Musician, 2015 Pew Fellow

In what otherwise felt like a fallow period for experimental music in Philadelphia, Vox Populi's presentation of new work from Brett Naucke, Max Eilbacher, and Bhob Rainey stood out as a dazzling high point. Among the best programs of contemporary electro-acoustic music I've heard anywhere in quite some time.

Paula Marincola, Executive Director, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

Joan Jonas' pavilion They Come to Us without a Word for the United States at the 2015 Venice Biennale. Because we do get better with age.

Trapeta B. Mayson, Executive Director, Historic Germantown, 2002 Pew Fellow

Monnette Sudler Blues Trio with vocalist Barbara Walker at Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust:

Warm September night –
the doors to the meeting house ajar.
Guitar, organ and drum rhythms
flowed onto Germantown Avenue.
Musicians wowed and soothed us.
Cars lingered at the stoplight.
Head bopping, dancing in the pews -
goosebumps kind of magical.
There is power in the arts.
It builds community.
I witnessed it.

Whit MacLaughlin, Artistic Director, New Paradise Laboratories

I read Stéphane Mallarmé's A Throw of Dice Will Never Abolish Chanceprobably 30 times. It's a modernist masterpiece—a mind-boggling performance of contingency that never fails to destroy me. I also attended the poetry slam finals of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement: articulate, youthful energy pouring off the stage in tidal waves.

Guillaume Pirard, Musician

Birdman, by Alejandro Iñárritu. I was struck by the sensitive use of classical music in the soundtrack of the movie. The music and the images impacted each other. Yo-Yo Ma playing Osvaldo Golijov's "Azul" at the Caramoor Festival.

Wendy Perron, Dancer, Writer, and Author of Through the Eyes of a Dancer

Crystal Pite's Polaris is monumental. Watching the 66 dancers—6 from her company Kidd Pivot and 60 from NYU Tisch School of the Arts—was like watching life on the ocean floor, or watching an active volcano made of humans. A mass of people surged and shifted and pulled apart and glommed together with massive force. Pite layered the dancing to be as complex, etched, and ominous as Thomas Adès music of the same title. And when the cataclysmic sounds thinned to a shimmer, the horde of dancers bent over as though to plant something in the earth, with vibrating fingertips pointing down, like electricity being grounded. It was futuristic and prehistoric at the same time. I was awestruck.

Bob and Roberta Smith, Visual Artist

London Metropolitan University, where I teach, has a great gallery called the Cass Bank Gallery. Recently it has extended its remit to include some of the best and most influential artists working in London. The show I found the most amazing was Flyposting at The Cass by Mustafa Hulusi. Mustafa works with printed images which he flyposts around London. Sometimes the work is purely visual and abstract, but at other times, it's political, looking at current social issues. In this show he brought his work inside. I was forced to think of it in another way and came to the conclusion that his work is just drop dead beautiful. He is someone who thinks deeply about how art can be a broadly political contributor to public debates, and this show was a fantastic inspiration for that conversation.

Deborah Schwartz, President, Brooklyn Historical Society

A visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Art's permanent collection. The atmosphere of the museum was joyous: filled with families (MIA is free to all, and it was "Family Day"). In the painting collection, I came upon a series of labels called "NewsFlash" which staff puts up with masking tape (literally!). The content of the labels connects works of art to current events—sometimes playfully, and sometimes addressing serious political issues. I was enchanted by the cheekiness, the creativity and the willingness to experiment. Kudos to MIA for this low-tech, inventive approach to interpretation.

Lisa Sonneborn, Producer, Visionary Voices

This year, a line from Tom Devaney's poem, The Things We String Together, has served as a kind of touchstone for me. His poem reminds me that communication (and love) take many forms.

To me you say nothing and I write it down as fast as I can.

Benjamin Volta, Visual Artist, 2015 Pew Fellow

The Wonder exhibit at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. is incredible. Photography is encouraged. My photo of Janet Echelman's woven sculpture 1.8 is above.

Yolanda Wisher, poet & USDAC Rhapsodist of Wherewithal, 2015 Pew Fellow

The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture's #DareToImagine National Action in October 2015. #DareToImagine invited folks from around the country to step up as "Emissaries from the Future" and host pop-up Imagination Stations of any design in public spaces. Philadelphia organizations like Asian Arts Initiative and Germantown Artists Roundtable hosted neighborhood-based stations that engaged local residents and passersby in radically imagining the Philly and world of their dreams.