PFS and Exclusivity

Organized culture certainly has some obnoxious aspects, one of which is the clannish instinct by which groups of artists segregate themselves in an exclusive fashion, creating charmed circles bound together by closed circuits. When Gaetan Spurgin and I were doing the This Charming Lab shows in 2000, which we both found disappointing, Gaetan complained (and I agreed at the time) that the Philadelphia cultural mentality had to do with establishing a clan and then huddling together for warmth in a corner; Philly artists, and art-groups, were lousy at self-transcending and working together towards shared goals. This Charming Lab, in retrospect, was a warm-up for and way-station towards PFS and the Highwire Gallery shows of the mid-Aughts— I was learning effective, competent event-planning piece by piece, and also gaining competence skills at juggling artists’ demands and egos. That having been said, most of the This Charming Lab shows, though staged at decent venues (Khyber, Dobbs, Killtime Warehouse), were pretty tepid, and felt hollow to me (the TCL readings at the Kelly Writers House were exceptions). By the time PFS established itself in the mid-Aughts, some individuals remained the same (Matt Stevenson and Gaetan were still around), but most of the TCL crew had to be dropped. The price I paid for making This Charming Lab non-exclusive is that everyone signed on to pursue their own agenda, rather than enacting the co-op set-up I hoped would manifest; and, rather than huddling in a corner for warmth, everyone claimed our corner for their own and went out of their way to thwart, hoodwink, and one-up everyone else.

Fast-forward four years— the Philly Free School shows are underway at the Highwire Gallery. The four-person management system in place was unique; but, on a day-to-day basis, it was really myself and Mike Land exerting the most strenuous efforts and pulling the boldest, foxiest moves to make the shows (and the general PFS scene) happen. My management skills by then were well-honed; and, because I’d gained the requisite skill in ego-juggling, the shows often took the form of hyper-aesthetic three-ring circuses. Were we exclusive? The weird riff on this form of PFS and exclusivity is that Mike and I especially went out of our way to demonstrate an expansive sensibility in our Philly Free School-related dealings; nevertheless, the four of us together on the bar circuit was so unique an admixture of looks and temperaments, that our very collective magnetism could be repulsive, and we, as a social nexus, wound up effortlessly excluding anyone in our path who couldn’t deal with four highly educated, tall, brown haired, brown eyed, highly sexed, promiscuous, non-dealing, straight-shooting aesthetes with a penchant for seduction, fast action, bacchanalian reverie, and general impetuous combustibility.

As needs be made clear, neither Abs nor Mary knew themselves to be PFS or Neo-Romantic artists; I stuck the labels PFS and Neo-Ro on my Aughts friends and lovers, to make clear both the coherence, on aesthetic levels, and the cohesiveness of what was created among us in Aughts Philly. Now that PFS has migrated from the Highwire, four-guy orientation to Adam-Abs-Mary-Jeremy-Jenny, I have to say that it is difficult not to disclose a revelation of pure, unadulterated artistic exclusivity in what/who is being represented— the enlightened elitist/classicist orientation I have already brought to the surface and addressed, which can only express enthusiasm for and identification with the most sublime/Mandarin cultural products, egalitarianism be damned. If anyone is an outsider in this context, it is Jeremy- his studied flaneur pose tended to disdain the haute, in favor of the quotidian and the arbitrary. With Abs, Mary, Jenny, and myself, we set the bar as high as our boundless idealism and stern concentration-ethic could set it; and, what creates real, durable exclusivity in the arts over long periods of time is just this kind of steel-willed ambition, not to sell, not to hit demographics, not to create a new self-image, but to create on the highest possible level, against those whose cultural small-mindedness knows no bounds. If I sound sanctimonious, it is for the simple reason that the highest, most durable art and artistic expression was literally sacred and sanctified for/to us. And the only business an artist has being exclusive is if what they’ve created lives up to a standard of centuries: not of months, years, or decades.