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Zagar and The City

nightowl's picture

The city is a concentration of humanity. It demonstrates economic triumph in tall buildings and the downfalls of humankind in its homeless population and high crime rates. The modern art world often lives between these two aspects of the city. While art needs money in order to survive, it also needs thoughtfulness, honesty, and some spontaneity in order to make a statement and be provocative. Money can produce a biased prospective and dilute arts’ meaningfulness, so art usually tries to survive only on a substance level of money, with enough room to play with ideas.

Artists are described as “creating outside commercial establishments.” (Flanagan, 3) according to Critical Play by Mary Flanagan. Isaiah Zagar follows Flanagan’s definition of an artist. Zagar’s art was rejected by museums, so he brought it to the streets. His art form is mosaics, which he layers on top of buildings in his hometown of Philadelphia. His mosaics are made of tiles, molds, broken mirrors, bicycle wheels, bottles, and other found objects. Zagar’s Mosaics are so widespread in Philadelphia that they have become part of the cultural identity of the city. Even though Zagar’s mosaics are less prominent than the cities’ museums, they are more unique and regional.

Zagar has aspects of play in his mosaics. He emulates Flanagan’s definition of play as an “activity that is fun, voluntary, intrinsically motivated, incorporates free choices/free will, offers escape, and is fundamentally exciting.” (Flanagan, 4) Zagar has been an artist for almost all of his life, and spends his days working long hours on his mosaics all of his own volition.

When I went to Zagar’s Magical Gardens, which is a concentrated space of his mosaics in one building, I was experiencing a form of escapism. The various details in the piece where too much too take in. The mosaic was made up of various trash, homemade molds, quotes about the city, and the outline of human forms.

I interpret the gardens as a place that welcomes you to be aware of your surroundings. The trash represents humans’ mass waste, the reflective glass lets me see myself in the art piece and makes me aware of the time of day, and the tiles that make up the larger pictures of people demonstrate how people come from different places and are made up of various experiences. Then Zagar’s representation of himself in the gardens makes me vaguely aware of all of the memories and meanings that the gardens must hold for him personally. His mosaics and the Magical Gardens play with various ideas. Zagar’s art, which was born from his own desire to create, has become part of the identity of an entire city. 


Anne Dalke's picture

Playing Critically in The Magic Garden


your second reader is missing--I wonder where she is?

Do you think that Zagar's art is "critical"? How/how not? Why/why not?

[What might you learn from the various videos and interviews we put up about him,
about how playful, how driven his work is? About how he worked to save his life?]

Did you play "critically" while  @ The Magic Garden? How/how not? Why/why not?

What status quo is being interrupted, and what reinforced, by Zagar's play? By yours?

Then some questions about the "play" in this essay:

How is it organized?

And how might you expand it for next week's project?

What questions does it raise for you, having made/supported the claim that Zagar plays....?

Grace Zhou's picture


Hanna finds the solid example-mosaics to the definitions in book. She relates Zagar to Flanagan’s work by defining Zagar as an artist Flanagan described-“ create outside commercial establishment”. She compared the difference between Zagar’s mosaic and the arts in the museum. The mosaic is more unique.Then she talks about the aspects about play in Zagar’s work. She uses the definition of play in Flanagan’s book and applies it to what Zagar has done in his work.Then she relates the mosaic to her own feeling and the city.So, Hanna mainly illustrates the definitions in “critical play” by applying them to Zagar’s real work.