About 10 minutes away from my house is a golf course called “Rolling Hills.” I can assure you, no hills—rolling or otherwise—are anywhere to be found. It’s flat as a pancake. The name represents an idea rather than reality, an idyllic representation of what the resort could be. This is the case for many titles, whether it be “Better than Sex” mascara or “Dream” soy milk. Names, it seems, are often little more than empty words.
Friend and fellow Arcadian Angela Martin ponders Zagar’s work.
But, exceptions exist for every rule. One of these can be found in Philadelphia at 1020 South Street. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. It sounds far too good to be true. Nothing is really “magical” in our all-too-normal world—or so I thought. But despite my skepticism, I left this hidden gem feeling as though I’d seen something almost otherworldly. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens began as just another anonymous, concrete building. Over a span of 14 years, from 1994 to 2008, artist Isaiah Zagar transformed this dreary urban corner into an imaginative, one-of-a-kind mosaic of unexpected everyday objects. Glass fragments, bottles, bicycle wheels, broken china, and even a toilet seat are all embedded in the building’s cement. The end result is a dazzling work of art. Every inch of surface is covered: the stairs, the floor, the walls. In several places, you can make out a human face. Some tiles spell out words or phrases. Others are an intricate, abstract collages of gorgeous color and light.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens isn’t your usual art exhibit, to be sure. But it is undeniably beautiful. Zagar’s work transformed the mundane into an awe-inspiring kaleidoscope that left me breathless. No empty words here. Only magic.