Shelley Spector is an observer and student of people and cultures over time and distance. In her art, there are suggestions of the anthropologist, archaeologist, sociologist, and historian at work. She finds, gathers, and sorts objects, and then reassembles them—placing them in new contexts, playing with scale, editing, and adding—imagining and reimagining the details of a society, past and present. Spector describes her process as “taking things apart and putting them back together again.” She likens disassembling and reassembling objects to studying communities, social systems—any group of coexisting and interacting people.
While wood has been Spector’s primary medium for some three decades, Spector has also applied her characteristic working process—collecting parts old or new, whole or fragmented, then merging them into one cohesive object, to a variety of media. She describes her photographic constructions as “could-be relics.” Typically oversized and altered images of everyday objects (a pencil, a ruler, a row of magazine spines), these photographs evoke stillness and solidity. They appear resolutely stable in a world that is forever speeding by, spinning along, and changing. Most recently she has applied her methods to embroideries on fabric, repurposed from shirts, pants, and other clothing, and presented them in frames fabricated from discarded wood scraps. Other new works include site-specific wallpaper created from reclaimed cardboard, once used to package food, toys, and other daily purchases in the artist’s Philadelphia community.
A graduate of Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, Spector’s sculptures, paintings, and works on paper are part of many private and public collections, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Free Library of Philadelphia, Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia, HBO in New York, Human Rights Campaign in Washington, and the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art. She is a recipient of grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Independence Foundation.
Spector’s “do it yourself” temperament and experience as a working artist spurred the launch of a second career: that of a gallerist, artists’ representative, and creative impresario. From 1999 to 2006, she operated SPECTOR, an intimate (it occupied the front half of a former bakery that also served as her studio) gallery that showcased local and emerging artists. SPECTOR and its coterie of artists—an evolving cast that included stalwarts such as Jim Houser, Whitney Lee, Ben Woodward, Randall Sellers, the late Rebecca Westcott, and CW Wells, each of whom ignored in her or his unique way the boundaries between popular culture and fine art, between insider and outsider—garnered local, national, and international acclaim. SPECTOR’s artists exhibited their work everywhere from the streets of Philadelphia to the museums and galleries of Tokyo, Milan, and Paris. They are represented in the permanent collections of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
SPECTOR—the gallery, its artists, and the woman at its helm—was featured in Art Review, Juxtapoz, National Geographic, New York, and Philadelphia magazines, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia City Paper, and Philadelphia Weekly newspapers, and on National Public Radio, CNN, KYW, WHYY, and WXPN.
SPECTOR gallery begat SPECTOR Projects, which—while working outside the traditional gallery system—continues Spector’s mission by championing distinct talent and new concepts in the visual arts. In conjunction with the debut of SPECTOR Projects, Spector launched an ongoing website called Artjaw, an ever-growing collection of first-person stories from Philadelphia’s art community—critics, students, museum curators, gallery owners, installers and preparators, and, of course, working artists—that demystifies and provides behind-the-scenes views of life in the arts. Philadelphia, a noted haven for artists, is a microcosm of the larger art-world. Artjaw puts human and highly personal faces on the inner workings of this community, its systems and social structure, the ways it connects with other working environments, with families, with other social groups.
Spector seeks (and simply attracts) others whose sensibilities and creations capture social, societal, and generational moments. She recognizes and revels in the irony that both she and the artists whose work interests her, those she wants to present, are often technologically savvy, but subvert the Computer Age and all the slickness it offers by creating art that appears resolutely handmade and unpolished. Sometimes the spirit of an age is shown in most telling detail by those who reject it. Spector embraces the rejected (and rejecting) and gathers the discarded, finding and revealing meaning and beauty along the way.
Spector lives in Philadelphia’s Bella Vista neighborhood with her family.