by Tamara Anderson
Renny Molenaar and Rocio Cabello are the genial, charming curators who are just a few weeks away from celebrating the first anniversary of their iMPeRFeCt Gallery at 5601 Greene St. in Germantown. Contrary to what its name indicates, the gallery is almost perfect as a showcase for artists and other creative folks from Northwest Philly whose work you might not see in center city.
“Traditionally, artists had to leave Germantown to show their work or to see the works of others, so we wanted to be facilitators and provide a space right here that would have an effect on our community” explained Renny, 52, who was born into an artistic family on the idyllic island of Aruba in the southern Caribbean. “I’m part black, part Indian and part Dutch. When I was born, all the cooks got in the kitchen and stirred it up.”
The reason for the gallery’s name, according to Renny, is that “it is not a perfect space; in fact, the lighting is horrible, but we do have great art work.” The reason for the offbeat use of capital letters in the middle of the word “Imperfect” is that “it started out as a graphic illustration of imperfect writing with a childlike system … The name came out of the frustration of people wanting a perfect gallery or nothing. We like it imperfect.”
When Molenaar was a small child, his family moved from Aruba to North Jersey, where the young boy displayed precocious artistic talent. He later attended Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts as well as the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and since then has worked primarily in fabric and public sculptures.
Renny met Rocio Cabello in 1990.(When asked about Rocio’s current age, Renny joked that it is “somewhere between 14 and 15 and a half.”)He had opened a gallery in the South Bronx called Black and White in Color Gallery in the 1980s. His first show was Fashion Moka, which came to light when graffiti artists were entering the mainstream.
His work brought him to the internationally-renowned Fabric Workshop and Museum at 1214 Arch St. in downtown Philly in 2000. Rocio and Renny became interested in Philadelphia at first because of the cost-effectiveness it offered over New York City, but then the beautiful tree-lined streets of Germantown sealed the deal.
They became residents of Germantown in 2003. As Renny and Rocio settled into domestic living,they soon realized that “there are immense cultural possibilities in the neighborhood.” Together they have two children, Cory, 8, and Giza, 13, and Renny has two older children of his own. His oldest son is a freelance director of TV commercials.
Between 2009 and 2010, Renny created several street art installations at the corner of Wayne Avenue and Queen Lane. They were all built from garbage or discarded items like crack vials and cigarette lighters. Renny turned the glass from the broken crack vials into rainbows.
One of the installations was very controversial. It featured Dr. Martin Luther King and the words “I am a Man” written in broken crack vials and lighters. Several people who saw it expressed indignation.
Renny’s response: “People do not always like work that holds up a mirror to us.” These installations led to the opening of iMPeRFeCt Gallery in 2012, and in their first 10 months the gallery featured the works of over 151 artists. In addition, there have been book releases, musical performances and weekly music and poetry jams in which everyone from the community is urged to perform.
Each exhibit lasts for about a month and closes with iMPeRFeCt Gallery’s signature “Last Supper,” a night fashioned after DaVinci’s painting of the same name with one long table for all guests to partake of food and beverages. It is a way of saying “Thank you,” explained Renny, “because of the artists’ commitment to their passion.”
The next exhibit at the gallery will feature the work of Jonathan Eckel exploring the interior world with his recent collection of oil paintings. It will begin with an opening this Friday, May 3, 6 p.m.
The gallery is the recent recipient of a grant from the AMJ Foundation and is currently seeking donations to raise matching funds. The owners insist the gallery fills “a desperate vacuum that seriously presents the artist without branding or marketing.”
When asked why they persist when it is almost impossible for a neighborhood gallery like theirs to be profitable, Renny simply insists that “artists change the world, over and over again.”