Art and the Unexpected
Art — Produced by Michael O’Reilly
From the outside, Eastern State Penitentiary looks like the last place you would expect to find contemporary art. For over 15 years, however, this decommissioned prison in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, in addition to its historical and yearly Halloween haunted house duties, has hosted all manner of art and artists. And the art has often been about prisons, the justice system or incarceration itself. Amenities like electricity and heat within the abandoned structure itself are scarce, so the art needs to take into account the harsh rigors of what is essentially a stabilized ruin. The best art hosted there uses these elements in the artwork itself. Take Nick Cassway’s piece about juveniles in the United States sentenced for execution. He made portraits of these juveniles by treating pieces of steel in a special way so that the portraits themselves only became apparent as the metal, exposed to the elements, started to decay. In the ART segment this month, we talk with Sean Kelley, Senior Vice-President of ESP and head of the committee that adjudicates proposals for artwork sent in every year to the prison. We talk to Nick about making art using industrial materials typically meant for highway signage and we visit with him in his studio as he quickly and deftly fashions art from unexpected things, for unexpected places.