Philadelphia / Reviews

Material Culture

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“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” ~William Morris (quote taken from the Material Culture website)

Material culture is an oasis of imported domestic goods tucked away in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia just off of Wissahickon Avenue. I first came across the store at my mothers suggestion while decorating my boutique Fresh Ayer in 2007. Material Culture is one of those rare shopping environments where you feel immediately transported simply by crossing the threshold and assured of finding something both unique and meaningful.

“have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” -William Morris

The building, formerly the largest radio manufacturing plant in the world, is an enormous warehouse filled to the brim with exotic treasures ranging from Persian rugs to hand carved archways with everything in between. The business is a family affair started by owner George Jevremovic in 1993 having grown out of a previous endeavor called Woven Legends launched in 1980. Jevremovic imports from places like Turkey, Indonesia, China, the Balkans, India and West Africa or as he puts it, “anywhere and everywhere.” The selection is certainly diverse at times verging on bizarre (see the tutu wearing Shriner bear and polka dot dinosaur statues pictured below) but somehow Jevremovic’s vision just works communicated to customers through an ever evolving and imaginatively arranged floor display.

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Influenced by thinkers such as William Morris there is a serious side to the art selection at Material Culture but without any of the sterile formality associated with traditional galleries. As I wandered the floor searching for something that might work as a small kitchen table the staff busied themselves unloading their latest delivery, which appeared to be more than a containers worth of goodies. Jevremovic’s nephew took a moment here and there to answer questions and make useful suggestions.

With the first year of an MFA under my belt I took to the isles with fresh eyes and newly minted insights. I was struck by the fantasy coffins from Ghana much like the one I saw in San Francisco a year ago at the de Young; Jim Bloom’s work conjured memories of stumbling on Jean Dubuffet and Art Brut for the first time at the Met; and as luck would have it I wrote my very first formal analysis on one of Prince Twin Seven Seven’s painting from an exhibit at the Woodmere Art Museum a few months back. It turns out that Material Culture has more to offer then I originally realized.

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Fantasy Coffins from Ghana: left coffins at Material Culture and right a coffin from the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Material Culture is best known for self-taught or “outsider artists” like Prince Twins Seven-Seven (Nigerian), Kwame Akoto aka Almighty God (Ghana), Mr. Imagination (USA) and Jim Bloom (USA) as well as anonymous artists representing a variety of folk, tribal and vernacular traditions.

When Asked about how he chooses the art Jevremovic responded as you might suspect without pretense. He said, “The same way I choose music, by enjoying it, being drawn to it — moved by it. SOUL!” His instincts have served him well. Material Culture is not only a remarkable furniture store but also a fantastic resource for Philadelphia art enthusiasts interested in exploring anonymous and outsider artists from around the world.

Owner George Jevremovic suggests we all read William Morris’ short essay, Hopes & Fears for Art, published in 1882. He calls Morris, “…more relevant today then ever!” I suggest you hop in your car or maybe an uber and make your way to Germantown as soon as you can!

Written by Liz Ayerle Proximity Arts Founder/ Coordinator. For more information on Liz see our Contributors Page

Want more information on Material Culture and the art they show? Here are some great links, video, quotes and images:

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Video from: We Speak: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s-1970s, Woodmere Museum 2015/16 (referencing work by Twins Seven Seven)

At Jevremovic’s suggestion I took the time to read  Hopes & Fears for Art by William Morris. Below is a favorite excerpt from the beginning of the essay,

“Now as to the scope and nature of these Arts I have to say, that though when I come more into the details of my subject I shall not meddle much with the great art of Architecture, and less still with the great arts commonly called Sculpture and Painting, yet I cannot in my own mind quite sever them from those lesser so-called Decorative Arts, which I have to speak about: it is only in latter times, and under the most intricate conditions of life, that they have fallen apart from one another; and I hold that, when they are so parted, it is ill for the Arts altogether: the lesser ones become trivial, mechanical, unintelligent, incapable of resisting the changes pressed upon them by fashion or dishonesty; while the greater, however they may be practised for a while by men of great minds and wonder-working hands, unhelped by the lesser, unhelped by each other, are sure to lose their dignity of popular arts, and become nothing but dull adjuncts to unmeaning pomp, or ingenious toys for a few rich and idle men”

Links:

Material Culture Website: https://materialculture.com/

Woodmere Museum Exhibit Information: We Speak: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920’s-1970’s

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