Almost Art

An exhibition on the periphery of mainstream culture, as well as visual and social anthropology


Fields of Knowledge
  • Artistic legacies
  • Curatorial practice
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions



Osvaldo Romberg

Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


50% Formal - 50% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "Almost Art: Speculative gestures. Aspiration. Utopia.," an exhibition on display from January 28-March 20, 2006. The exhibition samples work by a variety of international artists from countries such as Iran, Egypt, France, Argentina, Germany, and the United States. The public reception will take place on Saturday, January 28th, 2006 from 6:30-8:30pm, with all of the participating artists in attendance.

"Almost Art" posits a series of marginal proposals that bring together and question typical concepts and clichés concerning the nature of art and the forms that it conventionally assumes. From the eighteenth century to the present, the fine arts have sequentially appropriated activities previously associated with other domains, including photography, performance, sadomasochistic activities, and critical inquiry. Over the course of the last twenty years, this process has further accelerated to a point of vertigo. One way to grasp this process is to examine artists which are currently operating on the periphery of mainstream culture. They engage in practices which overlap with recent developments in visual and social anthropology.

The artists in "Almost Art" engage in sophisticated proposals about utopia, political criticism, and even oedipal relationships. The apparent simplicity and superficiality of these artworks masks an enormous complexity and sensitivity to issues that profoundly affect the future of artistic practice and the relation between art and society. This exhibition emphasizes in particular a tendency which Charles Eschew, Director of the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, and co-curator of the recent Istanbul Biennial, cleverly defines in a recent essay, "Collectivity: Modest Proposals and Foolish Optimism." Eschew argues for the creation of works of art which are humble in conception and materiality and which are essentially speculative. "Modest proposals," he writes, "generally make use of existing objects, conditions and situations and manipulate the elements into different, more aspirational or purposeful configurations." They do so "in order to deal with real existing conditions and what might be necessary in order to change them." The exhibition also tangentially touches upon Vattimo's conception of Arte Debole, which posits a form of weak art that contests deep meaning as well as the physical scale and finish of conventional practices. Towards this end, Vattimo calls into question universalistic discourses and metaphysical tendencies.

read more

Hamdi Attia calls to mind cultural aggression against media and technology. Attia distresses and stretches the television throughout the exhibition space until it becomes a sort of map. At the last moment, however, he recuperates the media image and places it in the service of an allegorical critique. It is evidently a commentary on the impossibility of destroying the media flow of information in post-capitalist society.

Kara Crews and Rudyard Snaggs approach graffiti as an anthropological genre and social phenomenon. By using the entire Philadelphia area as the subject of their fieldwork, they are able to establish comparisons, analyses, and tendencies related to different kinds of social models. They do so by compiling an enormous subset of graffiti artists, rather than by focusing on a specific individual or group.

Pascal Dombis reduces technology to a kind of automatic and elementary act of self-destruction. He achieves this by using a computer to produce a humble image--forms have been reduced to a minimum and color has been eliminated. In this sense, it is like using a Rolls Royce to farm the land. This critiques a post-capitalistic economy such as ours, which is based on ?execessity' rather than necessity.

Shahram Entekhabi situates his video work at the intersection between Western and Eastern cultures. The work presents us with a video portrait of a Muslim girl infatuated by her desire for the cult of McDonald's "Happy Meals." This immediately calls to mind a variety of post-colonial contradictions concerning the relationship between economics and religion, as well as the relationship between globalization and local customs. It is also important to note that the person in the video is not an adult but a little girl; this prompts in the viewer a series of considerations about how the present conflict in the Middle East will be resolved: by formal aggression, or in fact by economic and cultural seduction?

Tom Fruin in his practice involves drug containers that the artist has collected around housing projects. These residues have been sewn together to create a tapestry that parodies Modernism (through references to the form of the grid and abstraction). At the same time, his work, and the process from which it results, documents a sociological phenomenon that pervades almost all the different stratifications of our society. In this sense, Fruin's practice aestheticizes as well as denounces the ephemeral beauty of drug intoxication.

Cesar Henao, in collaboration with Carlos Ginzburg, was part of the Fractalist movement roughly 15 years ago, and together they have now produced a series of photographs which they term "Gravitis." These works are opposed to the graffiti of spray paint in that they belong to a sort of virtual world. Their work photographically document scratches on the glass windows of Parisian subways, and can be said to be like phantoms. These images are less about perception than about appearance and disappearance according to available light and angle of incidence.

Gian Carlo Pagliasso is an artist involved in larger issues than is first evident in viewing the work. The quilts featured in this exhibition have in fact been made not by him but by his mother, according to her own creativity and, later, in dialogue with him. As Pagliasso explains, "I did a 'vampirization' of her creative world. In spite of giving her 'immortality,' in fact she gave it to me." In that way, we arrive for the first time in the art world to an oedipal ready-made.

Karen Shaw develops satirical work about masculinity in which she refashions male sporting jerseys into women?s dresses in a simple and humble technique. This apparently simplistic conception of art is in fact quite complex, and is a kind of Trojan horse that facilitates a dialogue about feminism, consumerism, and collective ritual.

With permission from the artist, Slought has reconstructed for the "Almost Art" exhibition Carlos Ginzburg's seminal 1974 work "Qu'est-ce que l'art? Prostitution."

For the original work, Ginzburg rented an Argentinian prostitute in a Belgian brothel, and asked her to hold up a sign that, quoting the French poet Charles Baudelaire, read: "What is art? Prostitution."

Is Ginzburg, following Baudelaire, condemning the artist who lowers himself by entering the sordid economy of exchange? Or as Wendy Steiner writes in her recent book Venus in Exile: The Rejection of Beauty, is Baudelaire reminding us that the artist "stands outside bourgeois morality altogether, open to any experience"?

Please join us in considering questions such as these during a live reconstruction of Ginzburg's piece at the exhibition opening.