Art of the Fantastic Exhibit
Coming to Allentown

Star Wars by Jim Steranko

An ambitious showcase of contemporary fantastic art will run June 3-9 at the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley. Art at the Edge: Art of the Fantastic will feature works by James Gurney, Greg Hildebrandt, Paul Lehr, Jim Steranko and others.

The exhibition’s guest curators, Patrick and Jeannie Wilshire, fantastic art has been around since man has “been able to make meaningful marks on permanent materials.”  They go on to say that, “Ancient artwork is rife with narrative depictions of gods, monsters, shining deeds and things crawling from dark shadows.”

A press release asserts this “will not only be the most comprehensive exhibition of fantastic art to date, it will also be the first time that this discipline has been presented on such a large scale.”

I wonder if they’ll make good on that boast? This will have to be quite an event to surpass Alex and Phyllis Eisenstein’s Classics of Science Fiction Art at Chicago 2000, which presented works by Ed Emshwiller, Frank Kelly Freas, Edd Cartier, John Schoenherr, Ed Valigursky, Richard M. Powers, Mel Hunter, Wallace Wood, H. R. van Dongen, and others.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

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16 thoughts on “Art of the Fantastic Exhibit
Coming to Allentown

  1. The sad thing seems to be that the curators are trying to build themselves up as some kind of new-found authorities while ignoring everything that’s come before them. As you mention there was the OUTSTANDING Eisenstein-organized show, but there was also the Society of Illustrators F&SF cover show that Michael Whelan and Wayne Barlowe put together in the 1980s. Then there was Pavillions of Wonder at the Canton Museum of Art in 1996. Or what about the two Spectrum exhibits at the Museum of American Illustration in 2005 and 2009 which featured hundreds of major artworks? It seems M&M Wilshire should turn down their bragging a few notches and acknowledge the accomplishments of those who blazed the trails they’re comfortably strolling down.

  2. Minor correction: the two Spectrum shows were also at the Society of Illustrators.

  3. Thanks very much for the feedback on the show. AT THE EDGE is, in fact, the most comprehensive exhibition that’s ever been mounted in the field. Certainly, the Classics of Science Fiction Art show was fabulous, as were the others, but AT THE EDGE is the only show to include not only include artists like Emsh, Freas, Schoenherr, and Powers, but also Golden Age artists like Wyeth, Rackham, Dulac, Segrelles and Leyendecker, 19th century artists like Dore, Ferrier, Leighton and Riviere, in addition to contemporary artists such as Frazetta, Giger, Gurney, and a host of others. The show includes 165 works, all of which are original pieces (i.e., no digital prints).

    There has NEVER BEEN a major exhibition in the United States that covered such a broad range of imaginative works. Full stop.

    While we very much appreciate your desire to ensure that we make good on our “boast,” we suggest you take the time to actually see the exhibition – or at least find out what is included – before making your commentary.

  4. @Patrick: Or you could do a proper job of publicizing your exhibit. Most of the artists named in your comment here are not mentioned in the description of the exhibit on the Museum’s website. There is no catalog or list of artists available through the website. As of the date of my post Google did not return any other information about the exhibit. It was — and still is, for that matter — perfectly reasonable for the community to wonder whether there is enough evidence to support your claim.

  5. @MIke: So sorry that the museum’s PR schedule didn’t coincide with “the community’s” needs . . . .

    I’ll have to keep the community’s skepticism in mind the next time they contact me to sponsor a WorldCon art show, as we did for Reno. Wouldn’t want them to have a show sponsored by someone who was untrustworthy, you know.


  6. Your press release makes an extraordinary claim which succeeded in getting many news outlets to pay attention to it. There have been several ambitious exhibits of fantastic art in recent years so the bar is set pretty high. You made it hard to find out what was in yours. If you provided names of artists and works for reference by people wanting to dig deeper than the superficial claims in your PR then maybe you would have gotten the “Wow” reaction you sought.

  7. @Mike: I will share your thoughts with the museum, who is in fact the party responsible for the P.R. campaign for the show. We are the guest curators – the museum is the one that has ponied up in excess of $100,000 to mount the exhibition, so they get to call the shots on the marketing.

    And the “extraordinary claim” did not get media attention – our reputation and the Allentown Art Museum’s reputation got the media attention, including American Artist magazine, ImagineFX magazine, and Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. (No links shared as the articles are not online – they are only available in the print magazines.)

    You and Shel, in fact, are the only people who has taken it upon themselves to cast aspersions on our project, our honesty, and our qualifications without providing us the courtesy of waiting to see what the show actually consisted of before beginning to sling insults.

    Feel free to blame the museum’s PR instead of your lack of common courtesy if it makes you feel better.

  8. I still haven’t figured out why you worked yourself into a froth about what was posted —

    A press release asserts this “will not only be the most comprehensive exhibition of fantastic art to date, it will also be the first time that this discipline has been presented on such a large scale.”

    I wonder if they’ll make good on that boast? This will have to be quite an event to surpass Alex and Phyllis Eisenstein’s Classics of Science Fiction Art at Chicago 2000….

    I’m allowed to wonder in advance how good your exhibit is going to be. I’m allowed to speculate whether “the most comprehensive exhibit of fantastic art to date” will surpass the best exhibit I have personally seen without incurring your wrath.

    Seems to me it would have served you much better just to offer a list of what’s in the exhibit and let that speak for itself. For reasons that escape me you didn’t make that choice. And unless you dial down the personal invective you won’t be welcome to comment here in the future.

  9. No worries on that score, Mike. Fortunately, the great thing about reality is that it proceeds regardless of what anyone says about it. The same is true for us personally.

    We’re pretty comfortable with our bona fides. Your commentary says a great deal more about you than it does about us.

    We’re done here – feel free to have the last word if you like – we have an exhibition opening to prepare for.

  10. I won’t compare the Allentown show to the Spectrum shows – they display artwork of only one year and are an entirely different type of show.

    I saw the Eisenstein show at Chicon. It was an interesting show of its type. I am pleased to have seen it. Unfortunately it was not open to the public and it only lasted six days.

    I don’t know everything that’s going to Allentown – but I’ve seen a good 20 pieces or more and they are very impressive. I know that a number of artists are very excited about it, and I wish I could be at the opening. It will be hanging for 3 months, all summer.

    I don’t think there’s any point in comparing the two to the detriment of one. But given just the venue and length of show, I think that the odds are that the Allentown show will be the “most comprehensive exhibit … to date”. That’s because the museum is sponsoring the show, and a museum will find more collectors/museums open to lending pieces to it. In short, it will find it much easier to borrow significant pieces than a show under Worldcon’s aegis would.

    In fact, the only show I recall that looks comparable is one held in Rhode Island, I think, about 30 years ago, and if I remember correctly, it was limited to English fantasy art. Lovely catalog though.

  11. @Margaret: Those 20 pieces you saw, would they be the ones in the Allentown paper’s website this weekend or something else?

    Hope you get to the exhibit and write it up. Please send me the link if you do.

  12. I think Mike, you have to get with the fact that Fantastic/Fantasy art was here a LONG time(going back to the 1800’s and 1900’s with names like John Martin, JMW Turner, Arnold Bocklin,Gustave Dore, Herbert Draper, Gustav Moreau and others, save to say,it was called “Romantic Art” (before it was on covers and some fans like to claim “they” discovered it, and like to think they “own” it.) The show will showcase some top names of that era, one of which being Dore)As Pat says, reality proceeds onward. It’s a MUCH bigger world. Most recently, The Tate Britain had a major show of the works of John Martin who combined religious works with fantasy art and, in the flyer going into the show it features quotes on his influence on Ray Harryhausen and British SF painter John Harris AND carries several of Ray books- and ones on SF art in general- in the giftshop). I saw the show of the Eisensteins and as Margaret says, it was not something open to the general public and, as I remember it was impressive but only up the length of the con and in a small, off-corridor room. BTW it was NOT the main “artshow” at Chicon 2000 where I remind you that Yours Truly was AGoH and that “show” -how it was organized, if one could call it that, was a *travesty*.

    Publishing as we know it, is changing daily, it seems. The concept of the “book cover” is not what it used to be-the physical(paper/hardback) book is disappearing(I suspect artbooks,like original paintings, will stay around for awhile simply because they have anyway as collectible items). One time, one could stay within the confines of this field but now, new mainstream venues must be sought.

    This Allentown show, AT THE EDGE will be a major show in a major venue. The Wilshires have lost sleep and busted their backsides to make it happen.

    EVen Spectrum Live is trying to bring Fantastic Art to a much larger audience NOT just fans of the genre. Fans get it anyway(hopefully)but a more mass appeal that will add a more mainstream profile for the artists. Many of us are thinking along this same route-Michael Whelan, Donato, myself all are thinking along a more fine-art appeal. And mainstream is not a bad word. It’s a matter of reality as Pat says, and, longevity for the artist. Clubbiness and smaller focus, as it were, for lack of a better term only results in obsolescence in the long run.

    PS: there will be a 116 page catalog for the Allentown show, which will be on display til Sept.

  13. As much as I would like to get to see the exhibit, I know I won’t Family health issues preclude much traveling this year.

    The 20 or so pieces I’ve seen are in emails from artists who are exhibiting. Under the circumstances, I don’t feel comfortable passing them along. I’m not sure, but I think it’s first public showing for some of the pieces and I don’t want to steal people’s thunder.

    I’ve been told there will be a catalog, so shortly, everyone will know what’s in the show. I can’t wait to see the catalog.

  14. Unfortunately, I think Mr Wilshire’s posturing posts reveal much more about himself and his true motives than he realizes. Which doesn’t mean that his won’t be a good show or that some good might not come from it–and I hope it does. But certainly, unquestionably, if it IS a success, it will be because of all the groundwork others have laid in the previous decades. The sooner PW learns a little humility and shows sincere respect for the accomplishments of others, the closer he’ll be to achieving the recognition he seemingly so desperately desires.

  15. @Bob Eggleton: Seems to me there’s some good information in your comment but I’m having trouble hearing it through all the shouting of “You’re just a fan, shut up!”

    You know, a press release, unlike letters of transit signed by General de Gaulle, can be questioned.

  16. “It’s still the same old story, a fight for fannish glory, a case of pub or die….”

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