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Critically acclaimed artist's first large-scale outdoor sculpture brings public art to Philadelphia's Navy Yard
Virgil Marti's Five Standards (Dazzle), side view. Photo: Steve Weinik for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- Best known for investigating the language of interior space and decor, Philadelphia artist Virgil Marti explores new territory with his public sculpture Five Standards (Dazzle) at Five Crescent Drive at The Navy Yard. Commissioned for the new office of global healthcare company GlaxoSmithKline by the company and the developer Liberty Property/Synterra LP, and managed by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, the sculpture is Marti’s first large-scale, permanent outdoor work.

Five Standards (Dazzle) references the city’s naval and manufacturing past as well as Marcel Duchamp and Op Art. The piece is composed of five individual 16-foot-tall “Standards” constructed of powder-coated and mirror-polished stainless steel. The “Standards” cast rippling shadows and reflections that create a sense of flowing water beneath the sculpture, and the fractured images in the mirrors simultaneously reflect and deconstruct the environment around them.

A salute to the city’s history as an important center for furniture making, each of the “Standards” has its own distinctive scroll design, reminiscent of richly carved Philadelphia Chippendale-style mirrors of the 18th century. The title is a playful reference to naval banners and Marcel Duchamp’s 3 Standard Stoppages as well as his Five-Way Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, in which the artist sits across from four other mirrored versions of himself, just as the five mirrors face and reflect one another.

The geometric patterns across the surface of the five “Standards” pay homage to “dazzle,” a type of early 20th century naval camouflage. Sculptors, artists and set designers were recruited during the World Wars to paint naval ships with elaborate, intersecting patterns of contrasting colors, creating optical illusions that disguised the ships’ speed, size and direction. Pablo Picasso famously claimed that the Cubists had invented dazzle, and the style would go on to influence 20th century abstract art movements from Vorticism to Op-Art. Five Standards (Dazzle) reflects fragmented images of the trees and ships of the nation’s oldest shipyard, now transformed into a 1,200-acre business campus.

“My work has often examined how art is understood and utilized in interior spaces, within an architectural frame and historical context,” said Marti. “In this piece I was challenged to think about how art functions in exterior spaces, in relation to architecture as an adjacent object, like the ships docked nearby, rather than as a container. Considerations such as the temporal and environmental effects became more important. The changing seasons, the weather, the qualities of light as the day passes, and of course, viewers moving through and around - all become part of the sculpture.”

For more than two decades, Virgil Marti has established his artistic practice with work that creates hybrid objects and environments informed by art-historical and pop-cultural references. He often creates interior sculptural objects with a functional purpose and re-contextualizes them through their surroundings, using mirrors within a constructed space to complicate the reflected images.

Marti’s solo show, Ode to a Hippie/MATRIX 167, opens at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT on August 1, 2013. Born in St. Louis in 1962, Marti has exhibited widely, and has been the focus of solo and collaborative exhibitions, including Set Pieces at the Institute of Contemporary Art (Philadelphia) and a collaborative show at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., with Pae White. His work has been included in The Jewel Thief at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum (2012), La Biennale de Montreal (2007), the Whitney Biennial (2004) and Apocalyptic Wallpaper at the Wexner Center for the Arts (1997). He has received fellowships from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the Pew Foundation, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Art Matters, and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation. In 2012, he was a resident artist at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He holds an MFA from Tyler School of Art at Temple University.

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