Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Philadelphia Wireman

Have you heard of the mysterious outsider artist, Philadelphia Wireman? Basically, he (or she?) wrapped everything in wire...No one knows who he was, just that 1200 small sculptures of his were abandoned in a Philadelphia alleyway in 1982, where they were found by an art student.

Fleisher-Ollman Gallery which received the works writes:

The Philadelphia Wireman sculptures were found abandoned in an alley off Philadelphia’s South Street on trash night in 1982. Their discovery in a rapidly-changing neighborhood undergoing extensive renovation, compounded with the failure of all attempts to locate the artist, suggests that the works may have been discarded after the maker’s death. The entire collection totals approximately 1200 pieces (and a few small, abstract marker drawings, reminiscent both of Mark Tobey and J.B. Murry) and appears to be the creation of one male artist, due to the strength involved in manipulating often quite heavy-gauge wire into such tightly-wound nuggets. The dense construction of the work, despite a modest range of scale and materials, is singularly obsessive and disciplined in design: a wire armature or exoskeleton firmly binds a bricolage of found objects, including plastic, glass, food packaging, umbrella parts, tape, rubber, batteries, pens, leather, reflectors, nuts and bolts, nails, foil, coins, toys, watches, eyeglasses, tools, and jewelry.

Heavy with associations — anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and socio-cultural — to wrapped detritus, the totemic sculptures by Philadelphia Wireman have been discussed in the context of work created to fulfill the shamanistic needs of alternative religions in American culture. Curators, collectors, and critics have variously compared certain pieces to Classical antiquity sculptures, Native American medicine bundles, African-American memory jugs, and African fetish objects. Reflecting the artist’s prolific and incredibly focused scavenging impulse, and despite — or perhaps enhanced by — their anonymity, these enigmatic objects function as urban artifacts and arbiters of power, though their origin and purpose is unknown. Philadelphia Wireman, whatever his identity, possessed an astonishing ability to isolate and communicate the concepts of power and energy through the selection and transformation of ordinary materials. Over the course of the past two decades, this collection has come to be regarded as an important discovery in the field of self-taught and vernacular art.

One of the theories that I came across about his identity is that the sculptures were abandoned by an artist or student who was discouraged about being rejected from exhibitions.


  1. yep i did hear about him...good find for you to share though, love those pictures!

  2. This story is giving me food for thought. I do hope someone comes forward to unravel the mystery but then it might not be much of a story after all.