by Rachel Heidenry
Beyond the Paint: Philadelphia’s Mural Arts on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) celebrates the 30th Anniversary of the Mural Arts Program. Along with archives from the organization’s history are collaborative, site-specific installations that underscore the participatory and the performative. One installation is by Brooklyn-based artist, Josh MacPhee who has set up a temporary screen-printing shop in PAFA’s gallery space.
Over the course of the exhibition, MacPhee will collaboratively design and produce a series of broadsheets that chronicle Philadelphia communities through local narratives, poetry and drawings. The finished broadsheets will be posted throughout Philadelphia neighborhoods as a method of engaging the public in community activism.
Included in the gallery space are a handful of examples of historical broadsheets, including one replication by José Guadalupe Posada – the famous Mexican caricaturist famous for his calaveras. While the historical legacy is not explicitly mentioned, MacPhee must certainly be aware of the connection between broadsheets and mural painting. Often the few sources of news that the common Mexican read, broadsheets were the people’s journalism. With illiteracy high, illustrations were especially important for the masses who could often infer the news by simply looking at the image. Posada was known for being especially witty, creating recurring characters in the narrative of Mexican life, that often still resonate with contemporary history.
Following the Mexican Revolution, when artists were commissioned to paint murals across the country, many sought inspiration in broadsheets. With their goal to connect with and educate the masses, mural painters needed to create a common iconography and symbolism that would be both distinctly Mexican and legible for the ordinary citizen. Consequently, Posada and his iconic characters would influence generations of Mexican artists and muralists.
Connecting broadsheets with contemporary mural production and larger questions of public space is brilliant. The project is full of potential and has a unique opportunity to dig into the past while engaging the present. How this legacy will affect the outcome of MacPhee’s collaboration with Mural Arts is yet to be determined — but the concept is certainly monumental.
For an expanded review of Beyond the Paint: http://www.theartblog.org/2013/11/philly-murals-at-pafa-exhibit-beyond-the-paint/