The Philadelphia Wireman (Continued)
More than 1200 of them.
They were made of anything: broken glass, rocks, ball bearings, plywood, sheet metal, eyeglasses, batteries, umbrella parts, fencing, rubber, food packaging, plastic, watches, coins, toys, nuts and bolts, foil, paper, tools, jewelry, leather, telephone parts, etc., ad infinitum. And wire. Heavy industrial wire and thin copper filaments, wrapped and woven tight into bundles or spun like lace into arcs and globes.
They were set out to be thrown away. So, being an idealistic and impressionable art student, the young man waited for the garbage truck to ward them off. He then contacted the Philadelphia’s Fleisher-Ollman Gallery to get them moved and examined.
For the next three years, the gallery searched for the artist. They assumed they were looking for a black man: South Street in that time was almost entirely African American, the art showed signs of native African influences, and the strength required to bend the heaviest of the wire needed male hands in their eyes. But they searched, and put up posters, and sent out fliers…and eventually concluded that the man had passed on. It made sense: when you come to clean out an apartment, what do you do with things you think are trash? Put them on the side of the street to be thrown away.
But in 1985, the Philadelphia Wireman—as he came to be known throughout the city—was put on exhibition, and his works have circulated through the art world ever since.
The work is beautiful when viewed in person: there are always some sorts of subtle associations, be they to hearts or animals or people or religious situations or whatever else, and they strongly echo both Native African and American fetishes/medicine wrappings.
They’ve grabbed up to 20,000 dollars on the art market, but the average is 1,500 USD, so if you’re rich and want to make yourself seem more cultured, jump at this chance. I can tell you that you won’t regret it.