by Len Lear
Woodmere Art Museum announced the appointment of Matthew J. Palczynski as its curator on Jan. 23 of last year. Palczynski, who had most recently held the position of Staff Lecturer for Western Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, received his Ph.D. from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art with a dissertation on the Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko. He specializes in art of the 20th and 21st centuries.
“We had over 80 candidates for the position,” said William R. Valerio, the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO of Woodmere Art Museum, at the time, “and Matt was the best fit for Woodmere. His superlative credentials as an art historian, coupled with his experience in museum education will support Woodmere’s commitment to making connections between our visitors and our great collections of the art of Philadelphia.”
“This is a city with a long history of art and a thriving art scene,” said Palczynski when he took the position. “More and more young artists are choosing to live and work in Philadelphia, and I am thrilled to be part of an institution that is dedicated specifically to exploring and interpreting this new vitality. At the same time, there are so many established artists in the region, and I look forward to giving these artists the greater attention they deserve.”
Palczynski’s job was to oversee the Chestnut Hill institution’s collection, which spans four centuries of Philadelphia art, representing a living history of Philadelphia’s artists, past and present. Much of Woodmere’s collection is now available online at woodmerecollection.org. The collections database offers an interactive forum where ideas, knowledge and stories can be shared.
We ran an article in the Local on Feb. 28 of last year about Palczynski’s hiring, which included an interview with him in which he said, “Art is how people communicate at the deepest, most sensitive levels. It is also a language of human rights … You have to rely on data from other people; we have thousands of years of art. You can’t interview Picasso.”
As for Woodmere Art Museum itself, Palczynski was positively ebullient. “The number of works in its collection (3,000) is growing. So are the levels of connectivity to the city, region and state. It’s widely agreed that Philadelphia is a major art center,” he insisted.
Recently, however, a reader of the Local called Woodmere and asked to speak to the curator to see if the museum was interested in receiving a donation of several artworks. No one replied, so she told us she tried emailing and speaking with the registrar. She insists that again, no one replied. So we looked up the website and discovered that Matthew was not listed.
As a result, we contacted Megan Wendell, a public relations spokesperson for Woodmere, who informed us that Palczynski left his job last July. When he was hired, Woodmere sent out a press release to the media announcing his hiring, but when he left, there was no announcement, so we did not know he had left until now.
Thus, we asked why “the best fit for Woodmere” out of more than 80 applicants, according to the museum, left in July, just six months after being hired. And we asked why there was no information about it sent to the press — and thus, to the public.
According to Wendell, “Matthew resigned and did not supply a specific reason for doing so. He was not let go. We did not issue a press release because there’s very little to say about such a departure, and as I said in a previous email, Woodmere has not ‘officially’ advertised for the position but rather has been working with a number of guest curators recently. The guest curators have offered a variety of viewpoints and curatorial voices in the recent and current exhibitions …
“However, we did make sure that any members of the press who were writing about the exhibition that was opening around that time (last July) and who might reference Matthew in an article were informed of his resignation … but I don’t really have any additional information about Matthew’s departure.”
Housed in a 19th-century stone Victorian mansion on six acres at 9201 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill, Woodmere first opened to the public in 1940. The building, grounds and the nucleus of his permanent collection were the benefactions of Charles Knox Smith (1845-1916), who wished “to awaken the spirit of, the appreciation of and the knowledge of art … in the City of Philadelphia and surrounding territory.”
Woodmere’s core collection includes important paintings by renowned artists such as Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber, Walter E. Schofield, Benjamin West, Frederic Edwin Church, Violet Oakley, Arthur B. Carles and many more. In the George D. Widener Studio, a converted carriage house, a year-round roster of classes provides art training to children and adults. The Helen Millard Children’s Gallery also showcases exhibitions of student artwork from local schools.
For more information, visit www.woodmereartmuseum.org or call 215-247-0476.