Wonderspaces – The Evolution

Philadelphia’s Wonderspaces at the Fashion District drives the eye with first anniversary additions

Though launched in California, and initially spread through San Diego, Scottsdale, Arizona and Austin, Texas as a public art concept built “to bridge the gap between artists and new audiences,” Wonderspaces at Philly’s Fashion District goes beyond our gallery experience and art walks to create something easily shared, yet always remaining challenging. Usually without using hardcore abstraction or socio-cultural controversy as its visual or emotional guide, Wonderspaces at the Fashion District (open Wednesday through Sunday during the summer months), in its ongoing mission to show off international artists and widen the exhibition space’s perspective, popped-the top on three new, additional installations in July.

Said General Manager Jenn McCreary, “Our goal is to continuously evolve our experience and gallery. What the evolution looks like is shaped by our local Philadelphia team and it is based on the feedback we get from the community members who are attending the show each and every day. We plan to continue the evolution as we move through our second year, with additional new pieces coming later this summer and fall.”

dosage MAGAZINE and I spoke with McCreary about the evolution of Wonderspaces throughout its year in Philadelphia at the axis of art and attraction.

Thank You Bags by Reed van Brunschot

A.D. Amorosi: Please tell me about the original, initial vision for Wonderspaces, and how that changed with the pandemic? 
Jenn McCreary: After successful shows in San Diego, California and Scottsdale, Arizona, Wonderspaces was drawn to Philadelphia specifically because of our city’s robust creative community and vibrant art scene. The original vision was to present 14 works of artwork in a gorgeous but casual space, where visitors could also enjoy a full bar, which was a reality for seven glorious sold-out weeks before the pandemic shut everything down. When we reopened over four months later, it was on a much smaller scale human-wise. With a fraction of our original staff, no bar, greatly reduced visitor occupancy, and a host of health and safety protocols. But the artworks we present continued to be larger than life. We honestly weren’t sure what to expect when we reopened last summer, but what we found was that folks coming in were so excited, so hungry, so grateful, to have a space for human connection. To experience something together, to share that experience. A recent visitor told me that what we’re doing at Wonderspaces is creating a liminal space at a time when people are very much in need of it. And I think that’s exactly right. Liminal space is that which allows for transition, where we can let go of a way of being so that something new can be created. Spending time in liminal space is vital for our own evolution, and I love that Wonderspaces has the opportunity to create that space for people as we’re coming out of the pandemic.

A.D. Amorosi: How would you say Wonderspaces’ art plus installations, the process, the aesthetics, changed too in a post-Covid setting? 
Jenn McCreary: Our artwork and aesthetic has not changed. Our commitment to our artists is still to present their work in the manner in which they intended. We realized that finding a way to do just that, present the work, was even more valuable to the artists with whom we partner, at a time when so many festivals and exhibitions were being canceled. One of our newer installations, Micromonumental Mapping, The Essence of Creation by Limelight was originally created to be displayed on the Opera de Lille in France for the Lille Video Mapping Festival that was set to take place in April of 2020. Due to COVID19, the festival was postponed. So the artists decided to downscale and project their work onto a 1:40 3D model of the building. We’re presenting that in our space, to an audience who would likely have never gotten to see the projection as it was originally intended. How cool is that? How cool is it that something like that could come out of such a wretched year?

Submergence by Squidsoup

A.D. Amorosi: What do you believe Wonderspaces offers in terms of depth-defying art plus installations that your usual gallery space cannot? 
Jenn McCreary: Visitors to Wonderspaces aren’t necessarily regular gallery or museum visitors, which is also part of what I love about it. Folks are definitely drawn in by our social media presence. But my favorite thing is when someone who’s come in to get the perfect Instagram selfie ends up in deep conversation with one of our guides about the meaning of an artwork, the artist’s intention, puts their phone away and is truly transfixed by the remarkable work we have on view. Much of our work is interactive, immersive, meant to be entered, to be touched. One example is The Last Word, by Illegal Art, whose prompt is an invitation to write words or thoughts you never said or expressed, and whose presentation allows you to read those thoughts shared by others. Another is Transition, a VR experience by Joost Jordens and Mike von Rotz built around the music of Kettel and Secede, which takes visitors on a journey from one world to the next in an imagining of the afterlife that is peaceful, tranquil, surreal. Both are beautiful and moving in their own way. And seeing how visitors interact with the artwork is its own kind of beauty.

A.D. Amorosi: Tell me about the good will relationship with Fashion District and why the collaboration between Wonderspaces and Fashion District works as it is? 
Jenn McCreary: When the space in Fashion District Philadelphia became available, Wonderspaces saw a unique opportunity to make extraordinary artwork accessible to the widest possible audience, and jumped at it. Fashion District’s reimagining of the urban mall as a destination for entertainment as well as retail by bringing in the AMC Dine In Theatre, Round 1, City Winery, and REC Philly, plus its investment in art, which includes the Streets Department Walls (a collection of mini-murals by local artists curated by Conrad Benner), as well as permanent installations by artists including Michael Murphy, Ryan McGinness, Eileen Neff, and Klip Collective, made it a natural fit for Wonderspaces presentation of extraordinary art as experience. As a Gen-X child of the mall, who came up working in public art nonprofits here in Philly, it feels like an absolute dream. The opportunity to present truly remarkable, immersive installation work by international artists in a space that’s beautiful but accessible, approachable, comfortable. Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times never had it so good.

Erupture by Nicole Benowetz

A.D. Amorosi: It’s summer. What element of Wonderspaces or artists are you most excited about for the season?
Jenn McCreary: One of our new pieces for the summer, Our Top 100 by Jody Servon, is a community-sourced playlist in which folks share a song and a memory associated with that song as part of a participatory visual installation. Those songs are then added to a Spotify list that plays in the installation’s lounge area (and can be found on Spotify, Our Top 100 Philadelphia). I love everything about this, including how excited our guides get when a song comes on that hits some memory for them. I would say that the reopening of our bar, plus a soundtrack that is so uniquely Philly, is what I’m most excited about for the summer season.

Images: Society Hill Films

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