South Philly’s Secret Gallery

Magic Pictures Gallery is a hidden hub for new and experimenting artists.


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Magic Pictures Gallery
Contact the gallery to schedule an appointment

A red awning hangs over the door, and chained bikes pack the pavement on a slender side street, while Magic Pictures’ regulars huddle around art. Inside is a stark white room with just enough space to hang a few objects on the walls, and instillations from the ceilings. The interior resembles every other gallery, but this gallery is distinctly different from the commercial art spaces you’ll find the First Friday crowd flocking to in Old City, or in any other part of city.

Magic Pictures is an artist-run gallery in a home that stands solo, sandwiched between a row house and vacant lot, in the belly of South Philadelphia. You won’t find an art collector in this group of visitors. Instead, you’ll meet young, local art enthusiasts.

What attracts them to this hidden haven? “It is a gathering place for artists to see each others ideas,” says Lindsey Dickson, an artist who has shown work in several exhibitions at Magic Pictures. The gallery’s mission was to become an environment that catered to free expression and creative exploration.

Ben Furgal and Kate Ferencz moved to Philadelphia in 2010 with the intention of living out a dream. Because they are artists themselves, the couple wanted a place to show their own work, as well as, to create a space they had not seen anyone else successfully produce before: an experimental contemporary art gallery in their home.

Furgal was familiar with the gallery scene; he had previously curated for The Cake Shop Gallery in New York City. The couple’s experience with tiny galleries and tight living quarters taught them that the size of the space is not as significant as what you do with it. “We can take risks that other galleries can’t,” says Furgal of commercial galleries. “This is an experimental place where we can test out ideas.”

Experimenting isn’t the only way the two defy typical gallery practices; in a commercial gallery it would be considered bad form for dealers to show their own work, but Magic Pictures is not like other galleries because it is not a business.

Artists are not required to sell their work. If artist do sell pieces, 100% of the funds go to the artist. “A gallery is like record label,” Furgal says, “they represent a roster of artists and a lot of times their programing is geared towards selling that art because they have to pay rent for the physical space and their own homes.” Fortunately for Furgal and Ferencz, their day-jobs cover both home/gallery. “This allows us to take some liberties,” says Ferencz. They often show items that couldn’t be sold, such as work from their current exhibition In Loving Memory: A Mike Kelley Retrospective, which contains works like an enormous foil installation.

This exhibition pays homage to prolific multimedia artist Mike Kelley. Kelley, who committed suicide in January last year, was a source of inspiration for the seven contributing artists in the show; each built recreations of Kelley’s work. “All the artist in the show picked a piece of Mike Kelley’s that they could learn from recreating,” says Ferencz, who contributed two video instillations to the exhibition.

Magic Pictures exhibitions vary from retrospectives to collaborations. The space is also used for special events, like film screenings, record release parties, and music shows, that compliment what is showing in the gallery. Gallery hours are by appointment only.

To schedule an appointment at Magic Pictures contact: INFO@MAGIC-PICTURES.ORG

Amanda V. Wagner is a junior English Major at Drexel University and the student editor of the Cultural Passport. Follow Amanda on twitter at @amandavwagner

Images courtesy of Magic Pictures Gallery. Artwork includes:
Ben Furgal, Flatland and the Dimension Jump.
Justin Samson, Gugenschien.
Jennifer Sullivan, paintings.