Any variation on a gallery theme is welcome in a big city with too few commercial galleries. Though pop-up shows are common in recessions, Sugar is a temporary space that has broken the mold. Perhaps a shock to blue stocking Chestnut Hill, this large garage space has segued from a shop called Nomad (that served up a tasteful mix of Modern and Vintage furniture) to a fully fledged gallery. Usually new fangled boutiques lean heavily on ordinary kitsch (the collectible sort) and skimp on the “contemporary” in art. There are several in town. Art Star comes to mind. They show trendy tee shirts, tattoo drawings and faux outsider art from the skateboard brigade. This form of exhibition never gets old in Philly. Not so at Sugar; interior designer, Elie Anne Chevrier Lewis aims higher. She has an eye for the visually quirky and immensely ownable. Buying art is not so different from collecting Hummel figurines or Lustreware after all. High and Low are merged seamlessly. San Francisco artist, Tim Buckwalter’s neo-formal abstracts hang on a mossy green wall. Several pieces include an obtuse photo attached breaking the formalist first take. Long titles are a speciality: If You Were Lucky In A World You Built Yourself A New Life As An Adult, Complete with Friends, Lovers, Partners, Rivals, Enemies. He also provides his own mix tape on CD. Buckwalter unexpectedly combines efforts with Philadelphia artist Michael McFeat in a haphazard tabletop installation called Urban Survival Kit (romantic version), a comment on theoretical study in the art academy. ‘Thrift shop’ display here is looser and ambiguous in the extreme. It includes a Sex Pistol’s cigarette lighter – I must own one – and a copy of Guy Debord’s seminal Society of the Spectacle, the godhead text of myriad MFA programs. There is also a man purse for the sophisticated urbanite to put it all in. “It’s European!” insisted Seinfeld when his manhood was questioned. MacFeat supplies concealed weapon, a brick wrapped in a French Newspaper. At first one isn’t sure if the objects are for sale separately as curios or intrinsic to the art. On further inspection, the 1968 French insurrection is referenced with mock protest posters: Don’t Talk To Me Like That. Is this mockery or homage for Situationists? Hard to tell. It depends on whether you are an old French student of that ilk. Je ne c’est pas. In contrast to the deft, witty abstract painting, Buckwalter shows one of his ransom notes featuring cut out letters, courtesy of his son. Not surprisingly, he is also a fellow bard and writes about art in San Francisco. The piece sits away from the abstractions and demands scrutiny of another sort (or else)! Discreetly, Mr. Buckwalter showed me the F-WORD selections from the series in the back room. Swearing in Chestnut Hill?! These will undoubtedly turn up together in a curated show somewhere down the line called “Obscenity Now.” Clearly, the invective “ransom” has joined neon, cast sculpture, videos and scatter pieces in the bag of artist tropes as markers of contemporary practice.
Artist, Douglas Witmer echoes the subtle rectangles across the room. His understated School Papers series are collage works imbued with a nostalgic sense of lined notebooks. Beneath this formal play is an artist’s self reflection. This sweetness offsets the other artists’ bombast. Curation in a store? You bet! A timely Yoshotimo Nara poster (Fuckin’ Politics) – also on my list – is found in the back room that is cleverly curtained off. It demarks a further blurring of the “collectible” slash art nature of the venue. At the maiden launch of Sugar, Chevrier Lewis rented arcade games that played for free. The Who’s Tommy (1969) featured on The Pinball Wizard added to the festivities. Talk about fun! Catch this show while the indeterminate lease holds!