The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Presents Work by Emerging Artist Jordan Griska for Lenfest Plaza
In the newly constructed Lenfest Plaza located
adjacent to Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine
artist Jordan Griska has crash landed a Grumman aircraft fighter plane. The
play to spectacle is notable, considering the backdrop---PAFA's landmark museum
building, primarily attributed to Frank Furness, and considered one
of the finest surviving examples of Victorian Gothic architecture in America. "Grumman
Greenhouse," commissioned by
PAFA, employs a Grumman cold war era Naval plane; the artist has folded the nose and body of the
plane so that it appears to be crumpling onto the pavement. The inside of the
plane is a planted garden and its crops designated for City Harvest, a local charitable
PAFA President & CEO David R. Brigham notes, "Jordan's work
engages us in social and environmental issues in extraordinary ways." Griska
adds, "These repurposed finished pieces simultaneously lead the viewer to
contemplate the history of 'the thing' while changing the function of the
object. Halting the actions of this machine by grounding it in Lenfest Plaza
will turn this mobile weapon into a stationary iconic object."
The City Harvest
donation is foremost symbolic--this is art not farming. Like using the term "repurposed" in the
context of conceptual formalism, Brigham and Griska aim to land (or rather
crash) the work in the realm of political correctness and unobtrusive
banality---rather no-brainer content that is in rather stark contrast to the
work's high-jinks production value. So it
begs the question, why all this spectacle when a student protest placard
reading "end war--feed the poor" would have sufficed?
Or is there a larger cultural symbolism here that
both Brigham and Griska have missed--or chosen not to voice? Grumman
was the leading 20th century U.S. producer of
military and civilian aircraft. During its cold war heyday, which included building the
Apollo Lunar Module, the company employed 23,000 people. Following a corporate
merger in 1994, the company sold off most of its holdings and currently employs
by Jordan Griska, 2011.
Desolation by Thomas Cole.
oil on canvas, 1836, 39 ½ × 63 ½.
Grumman's history is the classic narrative about the
metronomic rise and devastating crash of an empire. It's the same narrative Cole brilliantly
depicted in a five-part
series of oil paintings titled The
Course of an Empire. Griska's Grumman Greenhouse could be cast as Cole's Desolation 175 years later--same
narrative, same imagery, but in this instance we are not disinterested viewers
of Cole's Fall of Rome. Rather than classical
ruins overgrown with nature's reclamation, we are offered a ruin closer to home--a
once powerful symbol of U.S. industrial and military
I see Griska's piece as a chilling
predictor of our nation in decline--and of the fragile nature of civilization
itself. Paradoxically, Grumman's fighter
jets helped determine the outcome of WWII--a war that had near universal support
from our country's citizens. Subsequent wars and conflicts, particularly
Vietnam, and more recently in the Middle East, has not garnered anything near
the ideological support of WWII and in fact our nation's post-war foreign policies
have been grounds for radical dissension and national disunity. Grumman
symbolizes this conflict as well. And lastly,
as a nation, we are currently grappling with the consequences of our material excesses
and overreach--and we aren't out of the weeds just yet.
Griska, and other young artists like him. privileges
imagery that offers subtle, and not so subtle, warnings of civilization's
cyclic decay. They point to a trajectory
that dangerously parallels Cole's thesis on the inevitable rise and fall of
empires and alerts us to the very real possibility that we'll soon be harvesting
sustenance gardens in the ruins of US
civilization--and not for charity.
Michael Gormley is the editorial director of American Artist.