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Photo: Allentown Art Museum
Allentown Art Museum is hosting "At the Edge: Art of the Fantastic" this summer.

Allentown Art Museum takes on fantasy

2012 Group Tour Media,
July 9, 2012

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — This summer, Allentown Art Museum is making science fiction history as it hosts “At the Edge: Art of the Fantastic.”

The exhibition, on display until Sept. 9, is the first major museum showing of contemporary fantastic art — depictions of magical and supernatural themes, ideas, creatures and settings — the kind of stuff you’d see in Star Wars.

“This has never been done before,” said Diane Fischer, the museum’s chief curator.

Sometimes called imaginative realism or science fiction art, the genre distinguishes itself from other forms by portraying ancient myths, legends and modern-day fantasies in the form of divine intervention, the imagination, the dream state and sometimes, the grotesque.

Put together by guest curator Patrick Wilshire, director of the Association of Fantastic Art, the exhibit features 75 original works by artists from all over the globe, including some from Wilshire’s personal collection.

Paintings from James Gurney, creator of the popular children’s show, Dinotopia, and Mark Zug, illustrator of Star Wars comics and the “Magic: The Gathering” card game, are also featured.

“It takes the entire second floor,” said Fischer. “A very large space, this is a huge exhibition.”

One painting, Gurney’s Dinosaur Parade, shows people in an ancient Roman city riding dinosaurs like elephants.

Another, Sands of Gorgorotha, is of hunters and warriors in the frozen tundra with an erupting volcano in the background.

There’s also a depiction of a seductive, female bloodsucker, titled Vamperilla.

“There are a lot of things people can relate to with all the vampires and demons in our culture nowadays,” said Fischer.

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Photo: Allentown Art Museum
Recently renovated, Allentown Art Museum added 7,900 square feet in 2011.

Imaginative realism — inspired by romantic and realist painters of the likes of Norman Rockwell and N.C. Wyeth — has been part of art history for a long time, she added. “It’s not just something that came from nowhere.”

Though regaining in popularity today with pop culture’s newfound obsession with the supernatural and fantasy in works like the Harry Potter books and television series, True Blood, Twilight and Vampire Diaries, fantastic art traces its roots to the Great Depression.

As writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells gained popularity, genre artists found work in the small book cover and comic illustrations markets.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that fantastic art moved from fringe culture to the pop culture phenomenon it is today.

The museum decided to host the exhibit after its CEO, J. Brooks Joyner, took his son to the annual IlluXCon Symposium in Altoona, the largest gathering of fantastic art and artists in the world. 

So inspired was Joyner that he not only decided to launch the new exhibit, but also committed to the museum hosting the 2013 Symposium in November.

“We’re really excited about it because it’s a local show that has national and international ties,” said Megan Haddad, museum marketing coordinator.

Often called one of Lehigh Valley’s cultural crown jewels, Allentown Art Museum, which serves more than 100,000 visitors annually, is a popular stop for travelers.

Discounted rates are available for groups of 10 or more, as are hour-long docent-led tours, said Haddad. An advance reservation for groups is requested.

In October 2011, the museum unveiled a $15.4 million renovated space. It has more than 17,000 works of Renaissance, Baroque and American art in its permanent collection.

“There’s always reason to come back,” Haddad said.

The museum can be reached by phone at (610) 432-4333.

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