by Sally Cohen and Len Lear
Long known for showcasing work by artists living within 50 miles of its Chestnut Hill address, Woodmere Art Museum’s annual juried exhibition takes a dramatic turn in 2013. “In Front of Strangers, I Sing: The 72nd Annual Juried Exhibition,” which opens this Saturday, May 25, and runs through Sept. 1, features a wide array of work by a talented group of 52 (mostly) young artists chosen by jurors Dona Nelson and Rubens Ghenov. Fifty of the 52 live in the Philadelphia area.
According to Nelson, who has taught at Temple’s Tyler School of Art for 23 years, the unusual exhibition includes “very little traditional portraiture, very little traditional landscape and very little traditional abstraction.”
Nelson and Ghenov, both acclaimed Philadelphia artists, curated a cohesive survey of contemporary themes and ideas being explored in Philadelphia today; selected artists include Frank Bramblett, Stephanie Bursese, Anthony Campuzano, Virginia Fleming, Ryan Foley, Jennifer Packer, Dani Frid Rossi, Camille Schefter, Matthew Sepielli, Leslie Stahl and more.
“Some of the most interesting work in Philadelphia is being made in the artist collectives of places like Fishtown, and Dona and Rubens have captured that exciting, new energy,” said William R. Valerio, the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO of Woodmere. “This is totally different from anything Woodmere has shown before.”
In conjunction with the juried exhibition, some of Nelson’s and Ghenov’s own work will be on view, and the artists will select thematically related objects from Woodmere’s extensive collection for public display.
Juror Dona Nelson, who makes big paintings that echo the physicality of Abstract Expressionism, has created paintings that are included in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the M.I.T. Collection, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and Woodmere Art Museum.
In an interview with the Local, Nelson said, “This show does look different than it has in the past because the art works are not necessarily grounded in representational drawing and painting, although we do have a strong example of plein-air painting, a big oil painting of a cemetery here in Philadelphia, painted by Nate Zeidman, who grew up in Philadelphia and went to school at Tyler as an undergraduate and is going to UCLA for graduate school. He is 22 or 23 years old and is already a fine painter…
“To sum up, I would just say that our selections address some of the conceptual complexity of image-making in 2013, but our main desire as jurors was to make an exciting exhibition that is enjoyable to see and to think about…
“I invited everyone I could think of to apply for the show, and we had nearly 600 applications. Some intended to apply, but forgot about it or something, and missed the deadline … There are many young people in the show because it was open to graduate students, and sometimes more established artists don’t want to apply for juried shows. They have their regular galleries and other means of getting work out.”
The exhibition’s other curator, Rubens Ghenov, is also an artist and professor. He currently teaches at Tyler School of Art but has also taught at University of the Arts, and next year he’ll teach at both Tyler and La Salle University. Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Ghenov immigrated to the U.S. in 1989.
He received a BFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design, both in painting. In his own work, Ghenov employs various media including paint, found objects and sound. He has been featured in numerous group and solo exhibitions locally and nationally.
In an interview with the Local last week, Ghenov insisted that the new Woodmere exhibition “has a type of spirit, a system of voices that narrate this vertebrae we together concocted through our selection. It has not been a dry selection of the best of the best, necessarily…
“Secondly I find that the influx of artists in Philadelphia is constantly changing for a myriad of reasons. People come to study here and end up staying; others migrate to Philly from other regions for bigger and cheaper studios; some come seeking a different type of community, others to stay closer to New York but not live in it. Some fall in love with the experimental lure of making and showing art here … The list goes on and on. Philadelphia has a vast potential that still largely remains, I think, untapped, but some notice it and lunge for it. This influx coupled with our two distinct perspectives made for a pretty diversified grouping…”
When asked if he and Nelson deliberately sought out the work of young artists, Ghenov replied, “Not at all. We responded to the work through the jurying process. Though there were a number of strong artists and works that came up, we stuck to the things that interested and intrigued us which simultaneously were developing the thematic voice(s). I think there was an ampler pool of younger candidates making the selection accrue in this manner. Of that, though, I’m not sure. But when there’s a mixture of older and younger artists, it made for a more compelling exhibit.”
Woodmere Art Museum is housed in a 19th-century stone Victorian mansion on six acres at 9201 Germantown Ave. Woodmere opened its doors to the public in 1940. The property and nucleus of the permanent collection are 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.” Today, the permanent collection consists of more than 3,000 works of art, celebrating the art and artists of Philadelphia.
For more information, visit woodmereartmuseum.org or call 215-247-0476.