In 2009, after photographer Dustin Fenstermacher lost his father to Lou Gehrig’s disease, he needed to get away from everything. But he didn’t find solace in women, drugs or alcohol. He lost himself in a much stranger place.
“I escaped into the wonderful world of cat shows,” says Fenstermacher.
A Philadelphia-based artist, Fenstermacher went to cat shows in small Pennsylvania towns, Madison Square Garden and New Orleans. He went to cat shows that focus on feline fashion. He went to cat shows that focus on feline grooming. He went to so many cat shows, in fact, that he longer sees them as odd.
“I had to bring friends along to see how they would react because everything seemed run-of-the-mill to me,” he says.
The exhibit “M’ow M’rrrrrrow” is a collection of his hysterical photos from his cat-show period. One cat looks absolutely peeved to be wearing sunglasses and a crinkly, Marie Antoinette-esque dress. Another photo (above) captures a judge judiciously studying the cheekbones of a striped cat. This kitty, too, seems pissed. Actually, nearly every pet in Fenstermacher’s shots looks irked.
In reality, though, Fenstermacher says they weren’t. The cats were pampered and perfectly pleased. He simply captured them in off moments. “I found it more entertaining to make it appear that the cats are having worst time of their lives,” he says. “If I’m not making myself laugh with the photos, then what’s the use?”
As if the exhibit wasn’t already over the top, he is also decorating Gravy Studio’s interior to resemble a crazy cat lady’s house. There will be a cat-themed blanket, cat-themed sheet cake, cat-themed planters, stuffed cats and — wait for it — an actual litter box.
Fenstermacher explains the installation succinctly: “I’ve been doing my best to find the worst.”
Through Dec. 31, opening Fri., Dec. 7, 6:30 p.m., 2212 Sepviva St., gravystudio.blogspot.com.
Joan Wadleigh Curran is a grime connoisseur.
The University of Pennsylvania lecturer collects trash from the city’s streets and vacant lots, and then uses it as a muse for her paintings. (She also collects litter from places as far away as Wyoming’s foothills and Ireland’s coast.) In the exhibit “Accumulation,” Curran depicts trash with gouache on black paper. Her images of neon-colored ropes and nets pop out from the dark-as-night background.
The most alluring part of Curran’s work is the subtle way she anthropomorphizes this trash. Tossed-away threads and construction materials seem to wrestle with each other. Other pieces of litter look like they’re embracing.
Curran says she animates the trash to emphasize its connection to humans. “I don’t see them as just inanimate objects that don’t mean anything,” she says. “I see them as things that reference who we are and what we care about. Things that were saved or discarded say a lot about what we value or don’t value.”
The amount of trash residents toss aside can tell us how much (or little) we value our city. Thankfully, Curran says Philadelphians are becoming less trashy. “We have a lot less trash than we used to,” she says. “The city has cleaned up in the past five years.”
Through Jan. 20, opening Fri., Dec. 7, 6 p.m., 1108 Pine St., 215-923-7000, seraphingallery.com.
Kate Kern Mundie captures Philadelphia’s offbeat splendor in traditional landscape paintings. In one piece, she depicts a foggy, gray sky over Philadelphia’s City Hall with pleasing, chunky brushstrokes. Another painting reveals the stark difference between the tranquil Schuylkill River and the harsh highway circling around it.
Mundie is especially interested in unexpected places of beauty in the city. “You’ll be walking past Schuylkill River, with all the highways and bridges, and you’ll think, ‘Ugh, gross. It’s all industrial,’” she says. “And then something about it is beautiful. There’s a beautiful shape or beautiful colors.”
Mundie, a Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts graduate, takes a cue from the Ashcan School painters. The early-20th-century artists highlighted the aesthetics of working-class neighborhoods and urban streets. Many of them also attended Mundie’s alma mater, but that isn’t why she looks to them for inspiration.
“I was drawn to it because of their bold contrast between light and dark colors,” she says.
Like Mundie, some Ashcan artists were also landscape painters in urban settings. That isn’t always an easy task. “There are times when we’ll go on vacation in New England, and I’ll think about how nice it is to just walk out the door and paint,” says Mundie. “But the city’s nice, too. There’s a lot of beauty here that we miss.”
Through Dec. 29, opening Fri., Dec. 7, 5 p.m., 221 Arch St., 215-922-5155, thefangallery.com.
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