The strands of colored buoys floating on the Schuylkill between Center City and Bartram's Garden are one of two artworks now on display along — and in — the river by the nationally known environmental artist Stacy Levy.
Made of plastic foam buoys typically used in aquaculture, the floating work Tide Field is intended to draw attention to the Schuylkill as the natural wonder it is — a constantly changing urban tidal river. To accomplish this, Levy has anchored nearly 250 strands of buoys at 11 locations. At low tide, the strands lie flat, exposed on the surface of the water. As the tide rises, they begin to arch, leaving only three red or yellow buoys exposed at high tide.
I saw them in several locations, at different times of day, and each sighting felt like a private discovery. My favorite point of entry was in the vicinity of 51st Street, near an old, rusted railroad bridge and offering access to Bartram's Mile, the biking and walking trail along the lower Schuylkill in Southwest Philadelphia.
There, in this isolated industrial landscape, on a particularly calm stretch of the river, the sight of Levy's buoys was especially surprising, even poignant. They stood out in sharp relief against the dark water, like beacons of light.
Levy's companion installation, River Rooms, consists of six wooden, boat-shaped platforms from which to observe the river and the buoys. They're clustered mainly on the bank of the Schuylkill at Bartram's Garden, and one is in a field there.
These River Rooms are nicely made furniture or architectural elements. I wouldn't call them works of art, though. It struck me more than once that they could have been part of Tide Field, rather than designated as an additional installation.
On the other hand, on both of my visits to Bartram's Garden, the platform by the boathouse was occupied by men out fishing, another purpose that Levy intended for her River Rooms and one that I found gratifying.
Tide Field and River Rooms are the first works in a planned Art@Bartram's series, a collaborative initiative between Bartram's Garden and Mural Arts Philadelphia. They'll be on display sometime into the first week of November, with a number of free public events planned in their honor.
On Saturday, Aug. 25, a family Tide Field scavenger hunt (11 a.m.-3 p.m., departing from the Bartram's Garden boathouse) will let participants explore Tide Field for up to 30 minutes in rowboats and kayaks. On Sunday, Aug. 26, participants in Full Sturgeon Moon Rowboating (7-9 p.m., Bartram Garden's boathouse) will row and fish in illuminated skiffs, under a full moon. On Tuesday, Sept. 18, Levy and the environmental action group EDGE Philly will lead a Tide Field kayak tour (5:30-7:30 p.m., departing from the Bartram's boathouse).
Through the first week of November along the Schuylkill from Center City to Bartram's Garden, 5400 Lindbergh Blvd., 215-729-5281. For details about Levy's project, go to muralarts.org.
Flights of fancy
Ticketed passengers at Philadelphia International Airport with time to spare should head to Terminal A-East to see the high-spirited group show "It's a Wrap: 20 for 20," celebrating the airport's 20-year-old exhibition program.
Leah Douglas, the program's curator, invited 20 Philadelphia-area artists to put their own spin on elements in one of the terminal's passageways, and they took her at her word. Nothing was off-limits, from the architecture to the planters.
Jay Walker used colored tape to create geometric patterns on the glass enclosures along the moving walkway. Tim McFarlane, Henry Bermudez, Eurhi Jones, Anne Schaefer, Anthony Vega, and Miriam Singer replaced existing white ceiling tiles with their own hand-painted ones.
A concrete column became Andrew Jeffrey Wright's Wave Portal, painted with his signature zigzag patterns. Mi-Kyoung Lee wrapped a column with a sheath fashioned from yellow industrial ties. Melissa Maddonni Haims wrapped one with a bold patchwork of crocheted yarn.
Taking her cues from an existing pair of red ceramic planters containing a fig tree and a Chinese evergreen plant, Kay Healy made stuffed fabric prints of them and mounted the prints on the wall next to the planters. She also took poetic license, adding a stuffed fabric snake plant.
Other artists featured here include Heidi Bleacher, Joe Boruchow, Rhonda Cooper, Jessica Curtaz, Yis Goodwin, Mark Khaisman, Angela McQuillen, and Amy Orr.
Through February at Philadelphia International Airport, Terminal A-East, 24-hour access daily, ticketed passengers only, phl.org/arts.
‘White Shoes’ at Practice
When New York artist Claudia Bitran undertook a photographic field study of how bodies look when producing social media, she noticed a common thread in her shots of teenagers posing for one another. They were all wearing white shoes and sneakers. That peculiarity launched another study.
Bitran began painting freestanding life-size, cutout figures based on those teenagers, all of which are gathered together in her installation "White Shoes," at Practice Gallery.
As though a room of photorealist-style images of teenagers weren't jarring enough, Bitran has mounted them upside-down (the mechanics are completely hidden) to focus visitors' eyes on their white footwear. Michelangelo Pistoletto, Marisol, and the 1960 sci-fi horror film Village of Damned come to mind.
Through Sept. 1 at Practice Gallery, 319 N. 11th St., 2 to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, practicegallery.org.