Northeast Times

Megawords is Mega Art

Port Rich­mond nat­ive, An­thony Smyrski, along with fel­low artist, Dan Murphy, bring their Mega­words ex­hib­it to the Phil­adelphia Mu­seum of Art.

If you walk in­to the Phil­adelphia Mu­seum of Art’s west en­trance — the one at the rear, away from the widely known en­trance atop the fam­ous “Rocky Steps” — and snake through the right-hand cor­ridors, you’ll even­tu­ally step in­to the Ber­man and Stieglitz gal­ler­ies.

This, ac­cord­ing to the mu­seum’s Web site, is where the mu­seum “primar­ily ex­hib­its prints, draw­ings and pho­to­graphs in the main build­ing.”

It’s also where the new ex­hib­it, Zoe Strauss: 10 Years, is set to open on Sat­urday, Jan. 14.

For those who aren’t fa­mil­i­ar with the artist, Strauss is a loc­al pho­to­graph­er who has gained re­cog­ni­tion for her doc­u­ment­a­tion of every­day Philly and her ap­proach to bring­ing art to people’s every­day lives.

However, be­fore you head for Strauss’ new ex­hib­it — and es­pe­cially if you’re not fa­mil­i­ar with the mu­seum’s in­teri­or — it’s worth your while to check out the space that Mega­words has built in the hall­way lead­ing to those gal­ler­ies.

If noth­ing else, you’ll be sup­port­ing a fel­low mem­ber of the river­wards. Mega­words is the brainchild of Port Rich­mond’s An­thony Smyrski and his friend and fel­low artist, Dan Murphy, who spe­cial­ize in cre­at­ing pub­lic spaces that bring artist­ic pro­jects to life.

Smyrski was born and raised in Port Rich­mond and, like many oth­ers from the area, he gradu­ated from North Cath­ol­ic.

“A lot of Zoe’s idea about the show, I think, is about the mu­seum reach­ing out in­to the city,” Smyrski ex­plained.

En­ga­ging people who nor­mally might not vis­it the mu­seum seems to be a com­mon theme throughout this ex­hib­it. For starters, there is an ac­com­pa­ny­ing bill­board cam­paign that show­cases 54 of Strauss’ pho­to­graphs — each on its own bill­board — that now can be found throughout Great­er Phil­adelphia.

High­light­ing mul­tiple in­flu­ences with­in a single pro­ject is ex­actly what Mega­words does, so it was a no-brain­er for Strauss to bring Smyrski and Murphy in­to the fold for this.

“(Zoe) wanted us to come in and make this space a sort of in-between space where people can re­lax and do things,” Smyrski said.

The space is ac­tu­ally two con­nec­ted al­coves that once held vari­ous mu­seum amen­it­ies. The Mega­words duo have con­ver­ted it to a read­ing and pub­lish­ing stu­dio as well as a make­shift book­shop.

“Art, in the past, wasn’t just (people) show­ing up, look­ing, then go­ing home,” Smyrski said. “In an­cient Greece, when you went to (the theat­er), you stayed and dis­cussed it af­ter­ward.”

That com­mun­al ex­change is what the two are hop­ing to bring to this ex­hib­it. The book­shop will show­case a host of books and magazines that have in­spired Smyrski and Murphy throughout the years.

People are in­vited to just come in, sit down and get com­fort­able. They will also be able to flip through a spe­cial edi­tion of the Mega­words magazine that was prin­ted spe­cific­ally for the ex­hib­it.

What Mega­words is — as a whole — is hard to ex­plain.

Un­der the Mega­words ban­ner, the duo pro­duce a print magazine, a series of art in­stall­a­tions and a whole lot of dif­fer­ent things that bring art to a lar­ger audi­ence while also rais­ing their con­scious­ness about is­sues that face cit­ies in flux.

Just to be clear, they in­sist that their work isn’t “al­tern­at­ive me­dia.”  Simply put, they are two artists, and their out­let is a prin­ted magazine.

“We’re not mak­ing paint­ings, we’re mak­ing magazines,” Murphy ex­plained. “We real­ized that, with print, since everything is go­ing more on­line, when something is prin­ted it’s al­most like it is more im­port­ant. People take it more ser­i­ously.”

The main fo­cus of their part of the up­com­ing ex­hib­it will be the print me­di­um. Smyrski and Murphy will hold reg­u­lar of­fice hours at the mu­seum every Fri­day for the dur­a­tion of the Strauss ex­hib­it. They’ll also host a vari­ety of meet-ups to pro­mote the prin­ted page.

First up is a magazine work­shop to show people how to make their own al­tern­at­ive magazines. They also plan to pro­duce sev­en artist books while in the space, and also dis­cuss print­ing pro­cesses as well as what has — and hasn’t — worked for them dur­ing their six years of pro­du­cing Mega­words.

Oth­er events in­clude a film screen­ing, con­cert and a pan­el dis­cus­sion, which show the di­versity these two men seem to thrive on.

It all kicks off with a big event they’re help­ing to or­gan­ize called the Zoe Strauss Ex­hib­i­tion Open­ing Dance Party. It will be held on Sat­urday from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. ••

“Zoe Strauss: Ten Years” opens Sat­urday, Jan. 14, and con­tin­ues through April 22. For more in­form­a­tion, vis­it www.phil­amu­seum.org/ex­hib­i­tions.

For more in­form­a­tion on Mega­words, vis­it www.mega­words­magazine.com. For Zoe Strauss, go to www.zoes­trauss­bill­board­pro­ject.com

You can reach at mgodfrey@bsmphilly.com.

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