Fringe pope-inspired exhibit has sculptures, reverent and critical

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To mark the upcoming visit by Pope Francis, the Globe Dye Works factory building in Philadelphia’s Frankford neighborhood is hosting an exhibition of art made in reaction to the pontiff.

Twenty-six artists contributed work to the show “Pope Up.”  The works range from openly critical to playfully reverent. The setting of the exhibition, an early 20th century textile factory with tons of dirty industrial equipment still looming in the space , colors the work. Large-scale photographs are hung on stained brick walls. Sculptural work is propped against a massive boiler.

“It can’t be too precious. It can’t be too perfect. It can’t be too rigid,” said curator Leslie Kaufman. “The work and the space are both in process, they show change over time. They show the effects of time. You can apply that to people’s viewpoints and attitudes toward the church.”

Some of the work takes the Catholic church to task for its policies regarding women and homosexuals. Artist Kathleen Vaccaro painted “David was a Woman,” depicting a gender-ambiguous image of the biblical hero on his way to meet the giant Goliath. Joan Menapace created a large obelisk painted in stripes of blue, white, and pink — the colors of the transgender flag — topped by the papal hat known as a mitre. She called it “Tend Your Flock.”

Kaufman said the strongest stuff came from current or former Catholics.

“People who grew up Catholic have a strong need to express their feelings about growing up Catholic,” said Kaufman. “If you’re an artist, that’s a great way to do it. Some pieces seem traditional, but if you look closely you’ll see there’s an angle.”

Ten years ago, artist Virginia Maksymowicz was commissioned by an Episcopalian church in Lancaster, Pa., to make the stations of the cross. She cast the arms and legs of real people into fourteen abstract sculptures, each two feet square, suggesting story of the crucifixion of Christ through expressive limbs.

Maksymowicz contributed a copy of the series, the leftover casting patterns from the fabrication process. Propped up inside the industrial setting of the Globe Dye Works Building, they take on new meanings.

“If you think about the traditional story, Jesus started as a carpenter, his father was a carpenter, people who work with their hands,” said Maksymowicz . “Now they’re in a space where it’s not assumed to be a sacred space. Does it make a sacred space – not according to doctrine but according to who worked there?”

“Pope Up,” is listed as part of the Fringe Festival. It will be up through Pope weekend.

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