Strange Fruit (for David), an evocative work created by New York artist Zoe Leonard (b. 1961) between 1992 and 1997, was recently acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was installed by the artist in Gallery 171 of the Museum's 20th-Century Galleries and will remain on view through September 6, 1998. Additionally, nine photographs by Leonard, also newly acquired by the Museum, will be on view in the Print Department Foyer off the Great Stair Hall through May 24, 1998. The acquisition of Strange Fruit was made possible through funds contributed by The Dietrich Foundation and as a partial gift of the artist and the Paula Cooper Gallery.
Strange Fruit (for David) is composed of over 300 fruit skins that have been stitched and ornamented with colorful wires, thread, zippers, and buttons. The quiet power of this elegiac work derives from the transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary. It was inspired in part by a trip taken to India where Leonard encountered a society that requires creative approaches to extending the useful life of available resources. Most immediately, it was the death of a close friend to AIDS that motivated the artist to create a piece that could embody her grieving process. For Leonard, "This act of fixing something broken, repairing the skin of something after the fruit of it is gone, strikes me as both pathetic and beautiful. At any rate it is intensely human."
The great number of components in the installation -- hundreds of banana, orange, grapefruit, and avocado peels -- reminds one of the universal need for relics, monuments, and mementos. As a meditation on loss and mortality, Strange Fruit (for David) elicits associations to the traditional Dutch still-life paintings known as vanitas, that allow the observer to contemplate the brevity of life and the vanity of worldly possessions. Dutch vanitas paintings contain images of such fleeting subjects as flowers, butterflies, fruit peels and extinguished candles. Unlike a painting, however, Leonard's Strange Fruit is intended to be transitory itself, and will deteriorate and eventually disappear over time, a process that will be documented through photography.
Leonard's photographs, like the group to be installed in the Print Department Foyer, represent an ongoing, diary-like project. They reflect Leonard's interest in marred beauty, accidental poetry, and ambiguous identity-themes that are in evidence throughout her work. Zoe Leonard will lecture on her work at the Museum on Wednesday, April 15th, at 6 pm in Van Pelt Auditorium. Free tickets to this event can be reserved by calling (215) 235-SHOW.
The Museum's installations of Strange Fruit and Leonard's photographs will coincide with PrideFest Philadelphia. The nation's largest gay and lesbian symposium, PrideFest will feature programs, presented at sites throughout the city, from April 28 through May 3, 1998,. In conjunction with PrideFest, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has organized a panel discussion with gay and lesbian artists, which will take place from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, and will offer specially-themed tours at 1:00 p.m. each day throughout the festival. For information about the Museum's PrideFest programs, call (215) 684-7860; to learn more about PrideFest, call 1 (800) 990-FEST.