At a time when the existential crisis of daily existence is at its most fraught, art can offer hope and light.
That is what InLiquid Gallery curator Clare Finin and the artists of the new ‘Nursery Rhymes for Questionable Times‘ exhibition (NR4QT) seek to provide. Running from July 14 – 23 in the Crane Arts Building in South Kensington, at 1400 North American Street, five local artists — Phoebe Murer, Matthew Courtney, E. Sherman Hayman, Tommy Mavra, and Stephanie Rogers – offer whimsy, rather than woe, in each of their colorful depictions of morphed Muppets, rubbery ceramic camels, abstracted cotton candies and distorted dollhouses and dinosaurs.
To go with those works of exploded reality, InLiquid Gallery itself is transformed into a magical place filled with pillow forts and street games, utilizing the playfulness of childhood aesthetics and to explore the darker sides of being a grown up.
“Summer shows should be fun, interactive and mood lifting while remaining thought-provoking,” said Rachel Zimmerman, InLiquid’s Founding Artistic and Executive Director. “Life for Philadelphians has been too hard and too serious for too long. Our InLiquid Gallery shows in 2022 to date have examined immigration, Covid’s death toll, and slavery and antisemitism. For this one we wanted to do something bright that highlighted our member artists in a group show that was smart and inspiring, but first and foremost, fun.”
Finin, a new mother, was interested in “creating immersive environments for viewers to experience the artwork,” she says, before mentioning the aid of Megan Pollin Hernandez in the project, and “the layers of kitsch and silliness” necessary to make NR4QT bold.
NR4QT’s emphasis on fun and brightness is meant to shine a light on the madness and melancholy that has been the last two years’ worth of conflict, and to reflect and portray hope. To this, Finin counters that adulthood, in general, is challenging, and that NR4QT is geared toward touching upon such ennui.
“The subjects that NR4QT’s artists talk about such as home ownership, mating, the environment, are all stressors in all our everyday lives,” she says. “What connects these artists is the use of humor and the surreal with these topics.
“Courtney’s fixation on his camels which he treats like Mr. Potato Heads is surreal, funny, and disturbing. Hayman’s Home series looks at first glance like adorable doll houses but asks questions about what “home” is. Which is especially fraught given the national housing crisis. Mavra also touches on the housing crises and his personal fear about his own future by painting places he is familiar with or used to live— but with dinosaurs strolling around those neighborhoods. Murer’s work centers on her own neurodivergence, but really in all her work there is a fear of being “different,” a fear that many of us can relate to. By showing such familiar characters, like Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, in a mental hospital it makes you reflect on the stigma surrounding mental health. In her work, Rogers embraces the power in letting go and giving into playfulness and intuition— which is we hope the show inspires in visitors.”
To that end, Fenin and InLiquid want people to leave NR4QT with a smile.
“Life is so hard, and we can’t argue with that, but sometimes a piece of candy, a game of hopscotch, and seeing some great local art can make it all feel more tolerable.”