An eager-looking gentleman in his late twenties with a toothy grin and a generic blue dress button-up was hanging around the Klein Art Gallery with what seemed like a few questions on his mind.
Though he remained polite, if he did get too friendly, it’d be tougher to dispatch him from Klein than most art installations. There aren’t steps worthy of an epic movie trilogy or foreboding 19th-century Gothic columns guarding its entrance. The nearly 35-year-old University City art venue, which recently opened its first nationally juried exhibition, is in the lobby of a Market Street office building.
“We don’t have a problem with foot traffic,” says David Clayton, Klein’s soft-faced, self-proclaimed “geek” curator. “You’ll get bike couriers and research scientists wandering through the exhibits. I think it’s a real success when we can just disrupt their day.”
So there’s no telling where that gentleman visitor came from or to where he disappeared after Clayton, 30, finished showing Technically Philly around the small and neat 22-artist exhibit called The Vitreous: Eyes and Optics, which explores themes of eyesight, visual perception and optical phenomena through contemporary art practices.
“This has always been a place that looked for art that intersects with technology,” says Clayton, who has held his position for just a year but spoke purposefully about a 1981 exhibition of 4D drawings by noted New England futurist F. Buckminster Fuller and how that helped shape the venue’s mission. That’s worked nicely for Klein, which is a nonprofit, self-supporting branch of the historic University City Science Center, the expansive research park whose buildings dot the West Philadelphia neighborhood, including 3600 Market Street and its art-friendly lobby.
- The Vitreous: Of Eyes & Optics exhibit
- July 24 to Sept. 5
- The Esther M. Klein Art Gallery at the Science Center
- 3600 Market Street
- University City, West Philadelphia, PA 19104
- 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday
- (215) 966-6188
“A lot of smart people come through here,” Clayton says. Perhaps knowing his neighbors, the brown-haired Michigan native, who now lives in Fairmount by way of Scranton Syracuse, N.Y. and New Zealand, is quick to note that, despite his curiosities and interest, he comes more from the art side of things than the purest research that gets done in the offices above his lobby-housed art exhibits.
“We’re not scientists, but we like science.”
The Vitreous, with nearly two-dozen pieces exploring the use of our eyes by way of the science behind it, is just the kind of exhibit that Klein has made their own: quirky and fun art with a touch of the academic.
Something that might break up a work day, which is good because its workaday location has given rise to its free, publicly-open, 9-5 schedule, six days a week. It all seems to work for Clayton, particularly the science end.
He’ll tell you a thing or two about the details of the art that comes through Klein, like the infared drawing device made by David Bowen, which has a robotic arm that senses and then mimcs movement around it to draw with charcoal on paper attached to a nearby wall. Eight of the 22 artists are based in or around Philadelphia, Bowen not being one of them.
The diversity and caliber of artist and the selection process that this art venue in the corner of a small office building lobby can have bodes well for the future of Klein, which has a retro video game exhibit that hits on 8-bit culture due in September and a third dip into the art surrounding the sense of smell coming in 2010.
“Artists like that it’s not a traditional art space and that eyeballs will come,” Clayton says. “They’re either really put off or really turned on.”
Turned off or on, the Klein has certainly continued to join the fold of Philadelphia’s technology and innovation communities under Clayton. They’ve partnered with the Hacktory in the past, and, on Aug. 12, Philly Startup Leaders is having its monthly happy hour amid The Vitreous exhibit.
“The Science Center gives us a lot of latitude,” says Clayton, who seemed happy and satisfied. “This is a place for pieces that wouldn’t quite fit in the Art Museum.”