Levy Gallery for the Arts in Philadelphia

Moore College of Art and Design

Philadelphia, PA

215-568-4515, ext. 4044




November 15 through December 12, 1999


Wax as an artistic medium has a venerable and significant history; with a multiplicity of functions, sculptures and paintings with wax as a final medium have abounded. From encaustic painting in ancient Greece to votive sculpture fashioned throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, from medical and anatomical studies to miniature portraits and curiosities created well into the19th century, wax has been a desirable and suitable medium for the depiction of the human face and body. Waxwork, traditionally defined as an effigy or bust, was concerned with naturalistic depiction, exact replication.

"Waxwork," presented in the Levy Gallery for the Arts in Philadelphia, seeks to broaden the meaning of this term. The exhibition examines this evocative material in the hands of a selection of Philadelphia artists, and in the context of several historical works (on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Mutter Museum, College of Physicians of Philadelphia). A medium of duplicity--liquid and solid, opaque and translucent, fragile and lasting-wax has held the imaginations of artists for its material capabilities and its symbolic associations. Wax has become a medium exploited for its unique and inherent physical qualities, including the ability to mediate form and image.

Sarah Biemiller uses wax as a protective preservative. In One Hour of Breath, the ephemeral is captured in the medium, made semi-solid, visually definable within a paraffin trap. Astrid Bowlby's sculptures are loci of association. Their varied layers, patches, and parts-shiny, gooey, mottled, speckled-could be viscera, perhaps edible, and are always tactile. John Dini's landscapes are abstracted and built from a thick, lush encaustic. Dini's process proves truly atmospheric, mediating horizon lines and vistas, transforming geographical locations into places of memory that evoke the passage of time.

Encaustic also suffuses Anthony DeMelas's subjects. His images of beginnings are layered and scored; his constructed surfaces allow the viewer a survey of wax's ability to coat and reveal, to be both fluid and hard, thick and thin. Frank Hyder has assembled wax-iced "treasure" boxes for almost a decade. For him, wax is a protective coating, perhaps the residue of ritual activity, partially obscuring both the exterior faces and the relic/votives inside. Ellen Kahn's objects and environments, each enveloped in a skin of wax, are ambiguously organic and intimately tangible. Without offering the viewer explicit meanings, the small-scale multiples seem to create a variable landscape of symbolic connections. Kevin Kautenburger is inspired by the natural genesis of wax as a secretion. He does not layer or mold it, but injects and pours it to adhere and pool within his Basin. Wax constructs the interiors of K. M. Marking's anatomical projections. She uses the material to suggest the figure's structure, making them at once biological and painterly.

The artists in "Waxwork" have made a commitment to wax as a source of their inspiration and an essential part of their working process; it informs, coats, protects, blurs, intercedes, or bonds in these artists' works, shaping subject, narrative, and form by its presence.

The opening for "Waxwork" will be held on Friday, November 5, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. Levy Gallery curator Lisa Melandri will speak on "Likeness and Bees: The Evolving Tradition of Wax as an Artistic Medium" on Tuesday, November 9, at 6:00 pm in the Moore Auditorium. "Wax and Wane: A Malleable Family Workshop," led by Tristin Lowe, will allow children, ages 5 to 16, and their caregivers to sculpt wax miniatures on Saturday, November 20, from 10 am to 12 noon in the Moore Atrium. Admission is $2, but reservations are required; phone 215.568.4515, ext. 4044.

The Galleries at Moore are located at 20th Street & The Parkway, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103 and are open to the public, free of charge, Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 5 pm, Saturday and Sunday, 12 noon to 4 pm.

Images from top to bottom: On loan from the Mutter Museum, College of Physicians of Philadelphia: Model showing the lymphatics of the head and neck. Purchased from Vasseur and Tramond, Paris, ca; 1870-1880. Materials: Wax, wood, metal, cloth, 21 inches wide x16 3/4 inches deep x12 3/4 inches high; K. M. Marking: Umbra de Ipse, 1999, bronze screen and wax 60 x 16 x 16 inches

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