by William R. Valerio
The “Woodmere Annual,” now on view through Labor Day and in its 73rd year, presents a distinct point of view about the art being made in our city; the goal is to offer a unique perspective on the contemporary art scene as perceived by an individual juror.
Our juror this year, the much-admired painter Sarah McEneaney, selected works of art by 50 artists out of over 600 who applied, creating an exhibition of contemporary art that is mostly figurative and painterly. Many works, like much of McEneaney’s own, chronicle a journey of “the self” through the contexts of life, with many different configurations of realism and illusion, observation and fantasy, as do depictions of neighborhoods and subjective interpretations of the textures and abstract elements of the urban environment.
There is also a strong dose of humor throughout the galleries. Taken together, the exhibition reflects McEneaney’s own flair for storytelling, down-to-earth elegance and urban sophistication. McEneaney is also known as an artist with deep civic commitments. She is co-founder of the Friends of the Rail Park (formerly the Reading Viaduct Project), a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a park and recreational path along the historic elevated Reading Viaduct and City Branch Rail Line in her North Philadelphia neighborhood.
Two large paintings by McEneaney are included in the Annual, the idea being to show a relationship between the juror’s own work and that being made by artists who attract her interest. Woodmere’s own painting by McEneaney, “Solstice Five-O“ (2005), is on view. The large canvas shows a wondrous depiction of a nude solstice party under the stars on a beach in San Francisco and was painted on the occasion of the artist’s 50th birthday. Happy naked people share food around a bonfire and the artist looks on and sketches. As McEneaney describes in the digital exhibition catalogue (woodmereartmuseum.org), many aspects of the depiction are embellishments. However, the intent of this festive celebration is a metaphor of the freedom that comes with communal joy.
Although the Annual is a long-standing tradition, in recent years it has developed into a three-part exhibition. In addition to the juried works and the juror’s own work, we offer a third element: Our juror goes into our storage racks and organizes a small exhibition of works of art from Woodmere’s own collection to further complement the exhibition and thereby place the art being made today with that of the past. Here, McEneaney brought together works by her teachers and mentors, such as Edith Neff, Louis Sloan, Cynthia Carlson and Sidney Goodman, along with that of contemporaries who inspire her, such as Judith Schaechter and Tina Newberry.
By organizing our Annual year in and year out, Woodmere affirms its commitment to the art being made in our city. As in all that we do, we strive to understand something about our shared context and culture because we believe that a diverse contemporary art scene makes for a vibrant city. In addition, by providing many artists, especially young artists and those who can be described as emerging voices, with an opportunity to interact with a museum, Woodmere offers visibility and makes Philadelphia a better place for artists to live. We thereby make Philadelphia a better place for all of us.
Please join us for the Open House celebration of The Woodmere Annual: 73rd Juried Exhibition at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 28, or attend McEneaney’s gallery talk at 3 p.m. Saturday, July 12. Everyone is welcome.
William R. Valerio, Ph. D., is the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO, Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave. For more information, call 215-247-0476 or visit woodmereartmuseum.org.