The stark white walls and freshly polished wooden floors of Proximity Gallery in Philadelphia’s Fishtown hardly live up to the eeriness that the show’s title, “Hallowed Halloween,” suggests. In fact, the only thing to break up the otherwise serene ambience of the place is not the creepy creaking of floorboards or hooting of owls, but the whole–hearted laugh, infallibly emitted by every patron, in response to a drawing of Christopher Walken with a pumpkin trick-or-treat bag.
Proximity Art Gallery’s rendition of Halloween is a multi-faceted one. This is not a Halloween spangled with gaudy darkness or slutty cats, not decked out in witches and goblins, cauldrons and mummies. Proximity seeks to reexamine the origins of Halloween as a harvest holiday. While witches with bubbling cauldrons are absent and the palette strays beyond the expected black and orange, pumpkins and skeletons remain ubiquitous, though elevated to — or perhaps restored to — their posts as symbols of life and death rather than paper Halloween decorations or window decals.
The array of colors and media help lift the gallery from the rest of the neighborhood’s front-porch decorations of scarecrows and plastic jack–o–lanterns. Ryan Studley’s ghostly double exposure, “All Souls Day,” and Jay Bevenour’s “Portrait of the Mythological Red Devil,” a bewitching ink and watercolor piece in a red and black palette (reminiscent of the famous prison scene from Goodfellas where garlic is cut with a razor blade), are standouts. Other highlights include pieces in a quasi–Nightmare Before Christmas style and Peter Wonsowski’s “The Swing (an Old-Fashioned Necromance)” featuring glow-in-the-dark paint (Tip: ask the curator if you can see the paint glow in the dark and stand awkwardly in the bathroom to attempt to make the room dark enough for a spooky treat).
Overall the scope of this 35–person show is remarkably vast, especially considering the modest size of the gallery space. The range of content and styles — from dopplegangers of pupil–less children with jack–o–lantern pails to mock–movie posters to a skeleton loitering with a boombox-fixed to his shoulder, in mediums as diverse as crayons, toothbrushes, oil paint and watercolor — is impressive and challenges preconceived notions of Halloween as a solely commercialized holiday. Not only does “Hallowed Halloween” exclude the overdone masquerade that is contemporary Halloween, but it helps the holiday regain some of its long-lost soul. In layman’s terms, if you’re tired of looking at racks of sexy nurse costumes and looking for a Halloween that’s a little less candy-corny, you’ll find it here. But don’t let the gallery’s name fool you: it’s hardly nearby and there is admittedly little to do in the largely residential area once you’re done walking through the work. The gallery is located on Gaul Street, but it might as well be called Ghoul Street because the place is practically a ghost town (but for a day away from the Penn bubble, a quick SEPTA jaunt to this hipster haven might just be worth the trip).
Haunted Halloween Now — October 28 Proximity Gallery 2434 East Dauphin St. (take the el to Berk Station) Friday and Saturday 1p.m.–4p.m., Wednesday and Thursday by appointment only