A woman is on display. Seated upon a platform, she bears all that is left uncovered by her black pumps, fishnets and a sign which reads, "What is art? Prostitution. (Baudelaire)." Below her, french fries are strewn about the floor, drawing the nose and eye to a film projection of a young Muslim girl devouring a McChicken sandwich. These installations are part of the Slought Foundation's shrewdly titled exhibition, "Almost Art."
For three years, the Slought Foundation has brought artists from the periphery of mainstream culture to the periphery of Penn's campus. Situated across from the elite drinkers of MarBar, Slought acts as a repository for a more modest elite -- artists and thinkers. Dictated by culture rather than economics, Slought tries to remain as free as possible from the branding and overwhelming market forces that often drive cultural institutions.
The non-profit organization was created to infuse Philadelphia with new ways of representing and analyzing contemporary life and art. Through exhibitions, events, publications and 210 hours of recordings available online, Slought allows the public to access the minds of international artists and theorists. Senior curator Aaron Levy explains that Slought "contributes to art by inflecting it and changing it."
"Almost Art," curated by Osvaldo Romberg, dissects the process of art in a way that is both self-aware and constantly surprising, even for the artist and curators. While bringing in novel ideas about art, Gian Carlo Pagliasso's ready-made pieces recall the spirit of Duchamp and Dada. Levy described Pagliasso's art as a process that continued to develop up until the opening night. The night before the exhibition, panic ensued when the television used for Hamdi Attia's piece on deconstructed technology short-circuited. During the search for a replacement, Levy discovered that a spare TV and several other items had gone missing from his office, piled alongside Pagliasso's other "ready-mades." Pagliasso's appliances-made-art sit beside a wall of flowers that he collected from the trash heaps of a cemetery dumpster. Levy describes how an "elevation of the neglected discarded to art" allows us to analyze the process of art and discover sites for artistic endeavors in the most unlikely of places.
The neighbor of Fresh Grocer's parking garage seems an unlikely site for art itself, and it goes too frequently unnoticed by Penn students. While many reduce contemporary art to a practice that is exclusive to the world of avant-garde and in-the-know wearers of all things black, Slought speaks to the contrary. Whether through the placement of a "Ready Made #4" on a desk chair, or of a woman atop a platform, Slought proves that art is accessible to everyone, everywhere -- be it on the corner of 47th and Baltimore or even on the corner of 40th and Walnut.