Fleisher/Ollman Gallery


Additional artists

Philadelphia Wireman

Lived and worked in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Wireman sculptures were found abandoned in an alley off Philadelphia’s South Street on trash night in the late 1970s. 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.

Greaves, Brendan. Philadelphia Wireman. Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, Shapco Printing, Minneapolis, MN.
Greaves, Brendan, “Bare Wires: Transmissions for the Philadelphia Wireman,” Philadelphia Wireman, Södertälje Konsthall, Södertälje, Sweden, 2010.
Johnson, Ken, “Inside, Outside, All Around the Aesthetics,” New York Times, January 5, 2010.
Borum, Jenifer P., “Philadelphia Wireman: Matthew Marks Gallery,” Art Forum Summer 2006.
Polsky, Richard, “Five Artists Under $5000”, Smoke, Spring 1997
DuPlessis, Rachel Blau, “Draft 22: Philadelphia Wireman,” Hambone (Spring)
McGonigal, Mike, “Psychic Magnets,” Raw Vision, October, pg.48-52
Grey Gundaker, Even the Deep Things of God: A Quality of Mind in Afro-Atlantic Traditional Art (exhibition catalogue), Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.
Chadwick, Susan, “Davis McClain puts Outsiders Front and Center,” The Houston Post, December 9, pg. G13
Johnson, Patricia, “Art Created in Isolation,” Houston Chronicle, December 15, pg. G13
Ricco, Roger and Frank Maresca, with Julia Weissman, American Primitive: Discoveries in Folk Sculpture, New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
“Sketchbook,” Art and Antiques Magazine, November
Berjonneau, Gerald and Jean Louis Sonnery (eds.), Rediscovered Masterpieces of African Art, Boulogne: Foundation Dapper, (forward by Robert Farris Thompson).
The Naive Figure: Eccentric Visions (exhibition catalogue), Rutgers University, New Brunswick.
Jarmusch, Ann, International Journal of Contemporary Writing and Art, Winter/Spring
Metcalf, Eugene. The Ties that Bind: Folk Art in Contemporary American Culture (exhibition catalogue), The Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH
Jarmusch, Ann, “Wired for Art,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July
Jarmusch, Ann, “Mysterious Stranger,” Artnews September

Solo Shows

  • Philadelphia Wireman, Södertälje Konsthallen, Södertälje, Sweden 
  • Philadelphia Wireman, William Shearburn Gallery, St. Louis, MO 
  • Philadelphia Wireman, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, NY 

Group Shows

  • Everyday Abstract - Abstract Everyday, James Cohan, New York
  • B. Wurtz and Co: Curated by Matthew Higgs, Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles, CA 
  • The Medicine Bag, Maccarone Gallery, New York, NY 
  • Approaching Abstraction, American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY 
  • Four Decades, Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia, PA 
  • 2000 Years of Sculpture, Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia, PA 
  • Rock Paper Scissors: American Collage Now, Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia, PA 
  • 50th Anniversary, Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia, PA 
  • The Miniature Show, Graystone, San Francisco, CA 
  • 10th Anniversary Exhibition, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, NY 
  • Sight/Site: Objects Subject to Change, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, PA 
  • Without Ego: Anonymous Works, Intuit Center, Chicago, IL 
  • Lives of Invention and Imagery: Self-Taught Artists, The Society for Contemporary Crafts, Pittsburgh, PA 
  • Specimens, Art in City Hall, Philadelphia, PA 
  • Assemblage: Reordering Chaos—Sculpture by Self-Taught Artists, American Primitive Gallery, New York, NY 
  • Dream Singers, Story Tellers: An African-American Presence, Fukui Fine Arts Museum, Japan. Traveled to: Tokushima Modern Art Museum; Kamakura Otani Memorial Art Museum; New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ. 
  • Face of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas, The Museum for African Art, New York, NY 
  • Revolving Techniques, James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, PA 
  • Messaging the Spirit World, Dean Jensen Gallery, Milwaukee, WI 
  • Henry Ray Clark, Philadelphia Wireman, Purvis Young, Janet Fleisher Gallery, Philadelphia, PA 
  • Philadelphia Wireman and Hawkins Bolden, Dean Jensen Gallery, Milwaukee, WI 
  • Outsiders, Eugene Binder Gallery, Cologne, Germany 
  • American Outsiders: Visionaries, Davis McClain Gallery, Houston, TX 
  • Art of Healing; Objects of Magic, Janet Fleisher Gallery, Philadelphia, PA 
  • Even the Deep Things of God, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh, PA 
  • Two Person Exhibition, Gallery 1709, St. Louis, MO 
  • Material Obsessions: Eugene von Bruenchenhein, Philadelphia Wireman & Anonymous Artists, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago, IL 
  • Narrative Images, The Crescent Gallery, Dallas, TX. Traveled to: Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, TX; Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, TX; San Angelo Museum of Fine Art, San Angelo, TX 
  • The Naive Figure: Eccentric Visions, Robeson Center Gallery, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 
  • American Outsiders, Galleri Wallner, Malmo, Sweden 
  • American Mysteries: The Rediscovery of Outside Art, Art Commission Gallery, San Francisco, CA 
  • Materializers: Outsider & Visionary Sculptors, Janet Fleisher Gallery, Philadelphia, PA 
  • The Ties that Bind: Folk Art in Contemporary American Culture, The Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinatti, OH. Traveled to: Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI; North Dakota Museum of Art, Grand Forks, ND; San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA 
  • Three Person Exhibition, Oscarsson Siegeltuch Gallery, New York, NY 
  • Small Sculpture, Acme Art, San Francisco, CA 
  • Outside Sculpture, Janet Fleisher Gallery, Philadelphia, PA 
  • Extraordinary Visions, Lawrence Hail Gallery, Rosemont College, Rosemont, PA 
  • Inaugural Exhibition, Cavin Morris, Inc., New York, NY 
  • Masterpieces of Folk Art, Janet Fleisher Gallery, Philadelphia, PA