New exhibit confronts societal constructs

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Subversion, a group exhibition juried by Alice Oh presented by Philadelphia Sculptors and Da Vinci Art Alliance opened with a public reception on Feb. 26 and runs through March 22. 

This show is the second collaboration between the two arts organizations. 

The first collaboration, Shelter, took place in 2018. For Subversion, artists were encouraged to submit works that pushed back against societal norms. The exhibit highlights work that questions authority, traditions, morals, and challenges social constructs. The artwork in the show confronts everything from gender norms to environmental threats. 

Twenty-seven pieces were selected from 18 Philadelphian sculptors — Theo. A. Artz, David Beker, Natasha Cheung, williamCromar, David Detrich, Travis Donovan, Deirdre

Doyle, Harold Kalmus, Monica Kane, Eleanor Levie, Nicholli Matheny, Constance McBride, Collin Mura-smith, Jeremy Sims, Holly Smith, Helge Speth, Simone Spicer, and Nina Valder — by juror Oh, a painter with work included in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Leeway Foundation, Temple University, Yale University and SAP America, Inc.

The Philadelphia Sculptors, founded in 1997, is the only professional organization of sculptors in the region. Its mission is to help raise public awareness of sculpture and its value through workshops, conferences, programs and indoor and outdoor exhibitions in traditional and nontraditional venues.

Da Vinci Art Alliance provides a supportive community of artists and creatives focused on capturing the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci — “Like Leonardo, we ask big questions, ponder complex ideas, experiment with form and create new ways of engaging with and sharing our art.”

Sims, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, is one of the sculptors exhibiting in the show. As a ceramic artist, his pieces generally “start as drinking vessels,” which he said are personal, intimate objects that “pull you in.” Then, he allows his sculptures to transform into something more abstract. His work sometimes has a tromp l’oeil effect. 

Sims’ work responds to contemporary design and how design affects the way we see the world subconsciously. His work in Subversion speaks to the current trend in the design world of personifying objects by giving them human names, particularly men designers giving objects like sofas or chaise lounges a woman’s name to invoke the inanimate object’s “personality.”

In his work, Sims chose names that exist outside of the gender binary in a fundamental way. His work explores his belief that no human being exists on the gender spectrum in the same way their entire lives and that gender is a social construct.

Sims has a new collection of work available for sale called “Things You Can Live With,” available on Amazon. 

Another artist in the LGBTQ+ community with a sculpture in the show is Matheny, who focused on environmental issues with her work titled “Breathe.” Born and raised in West Virginia in southern Appalachia, Matheny said coal mining was a way of life. It wasn’t until she came to Philadelphia to study at Moore College of Art & Design that she realized how remote and disconnected her upbringing was from the rest of the nation. 

She emphasized that it took tornadoes in West Virginia to bring respiratory issues of the region into the national conversation. “Breathe” is a non-functional gas mask made of brass, bituminous coal, copper and epoxy inspired by medical scans of black lungs belonging to miners who sued gas mask companies due to recalls of respiration masks that failed to protect them. After the Federal Mining Safety Acts of 1977, miners placed their trust in these masks only to find decades later that they now are suffering from lung cancer.

When asked if being in the LGBTQ+ community ever informs her work, Matheny said, “It has caused me to become more aware and comfortable in my own skin which has in turn allowed me to pay more attention to the outside world and spend less time hyper-focusing inwardly on the self.” 

For more information about Subversion, visit https://davinciartalliance.org/subversion.

Follow Nicholli Mathey on Instagram @nichotineartYou can learn more about the work of Jeremy Sims at his website: https://www.simsart.work/. Sims uses he/they pronouns.