by Pamela Rogow
Matthew Palczynski, the newly appointed curator at Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave., has an enduring passion not only for art history, but also for how art functions in a global sense. He brings that expansive view of art to our local museum with its regionally based collection.
Matthew’s training involved some cross-pollination. After graduating from Purchase College (State University of New York) with a degree in art history, he left for six months in Zimbabwe, where he studied regional geopolitics through the lens of land designation, feminism and poverty issues.
Returning stateside, he began to see art history from a broader perspective, recognizing how the interplay of geography, culture and politics weaves opportunities for progress. He found links between artistic expression and human rights; during graduate school, he continued to focus on human rights-related issues at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
As he said in a recent interview, “Art is how people communicate at the deepest, most sensitive levels. It is also a language of human rights.”
As well as being inspired by the transcendence of art, Matthew increasingly appreciated the value of research and the bounty to be found in its details: “You have to rely on data from other people; we have thousands of years of art. You can’t interview Picasso.”
Several years of graduate study were capped by a PhD in 2011 from Tyler School of Art in art of 20th and 21st-century with a dissertation on Mark Rothko. He digresses about Tyler, no doubt to underscore Philadelphia as an enduring and increasingly recognized epicenter of the art world.
“Have you walked through the stunning new building at Tyler, by Carlos Jimenez? It’s a magical coming together of history and the present. You sense the architect saying, ‘I’m here to show you the history that came before you.’ And then it gets you up to speed.” He continues to teach art history courses at Tyler, which he celebrates for offering the vitality of a conservatory as well as the serious enterprise of an esteemed academic center.
Until his appointment at Woodmere, Matthew was Staff Lecturer of Western Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In this role, he began to develop the city and regional partnerships that he brings with him to Woodmere.
Matthew’s vision will be shaping Woodmere’s collection, building on its already robust relationships with artists, collectors, institutions and the public; and presenting exhibitions and programs.
Much excites him about Woodmere’s future, including the first show he is curating here, to open May 16. “Rebel Realism” will present artists from mid-20th century to the present — our artists, if you will…artists of this region — who have worked in ways often darkly and have their own powerful takes on ‘realism.’”
The show will feature works from the collection as well as those that are borrowed. “We can now look back and find aspects of the story that haven’t yet been told. There has been a rebellious streak in Philadelphia. We will trace its evolution to the present. The works are still being selected and secured for the show. People are very focused on what we are doing here and excited to be a part of it.”
As for Woodmere Art Museum itself, the man is 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 insists.
Readers are also reminded to visit the current exhibit, “Force of Nature,” now running through April 22, with an open house Saturday, Feb. 25, 1-4 p.m. It encompasses two exhibitions, “Elaine Kurtz: A Retrospective” and “Elemental,” exploring the deep structures of nature that Kurtz and other local artists have used as a language of form.
For more information about any of the above, call 215-247-0476 or visit www.woodmereartmuseum.org