by Sally Cohen
From the American Dream to unnerving realities, Woodmere Art Museum’s bold spring exhibitions showcase a wide variety of paintings and works on paper from 20th- and 21st-century artists with strong connections to Philadelphia. “Salvatore Pinto: A Retrospective Celebrating the Barnes Legacy” looks back on the career of one of Philadelphia’s great 20th-century artists, who studied at the Barnes Foundation.
Concurrently, “Haunting Narratives: Detours from Philadelphia Realism, 1935 to the Present” showcases the work of nearly 60 artists from the mid-1900s to the present who abandoned traditional modes of realism in favor of darker, more “haunting” narratives, a genre that has been at the center of Philadelphia art for centuries. Woodmere Art Museum began presenting both exhibitions on May 12, and they will continue to July 15.
Part of a family of artists who moved to Philadelphia from Salerno, Italy, in 1909, Salvatore Pinto (1905-1966) was a prized student of Albert Barnes and a teacher at the Barnes Foundation, transmitting ideas of European modernism to generations of American art students.
Pinto, who attended the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, absorbed the latest trends of avant-garde modernist painting from mentors like Henri Matisse, with whom Pinto studied in the South of France on a Barnes Foundation Traveling Scholarship. Before he left the U.S., Pinto was a realist, but when he returned from Europe his highly stylized, non-representational figures clearly showed the influence of Matisse to a great extent and of Cezanne and Picasso to a lesser extent.
(Pinto’s brothers, Angelo and Biagio, also studied at the Barnes Foundation and received scholarships for travel and study from Albert Barnes himself. Another brother, Joseph, had a photo studio. All three Pinto brother artists are represented in the Woodmere show and in the unique Barnes Foundation collection.)
Working in media ranging from painting and printmaking to photography and furniture design, Pinto embraced what he learned from his travels abroad and developed a distinctly American repertoire of subjects, including a series inspired by Long Beach Island shorelines.
Coinciding with the opening of the Barnes Foundation Museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, “Salvatore Pinto: A Retrospective Celebrating the Barnes Legacy” offers a comprehensive view of Pinto’s oeuvre as well as examples of works by Angelo and Biagio Pinto, to honor an essential transatlantic link between Philadelphia and European modernism.
“Haunting Narratives: Detours from Philadelphia Realism” focuses on the thematically dark, often hauntingly strange works of art made by painters and printmakers of Philadelphia since the 1930s. Benton Spruance, Robert Riggs and Leon Kelly set the stage in the 1930s for this unique thread of narrative art, a tradition that continued in the work of Sidney Goodman, Peter Paone and Ben Kamihira.
The exhibition is rounded out by the many contemporary twists on the genre from artists with Philadelphia ties. Selected from a broad artistic spectrum, the works in “Haunting Narratives” are diverse, ranging from pictorially dark, murky scenes to paradoxically colorful, seemingly lighthearted facades.
“Both exhibitions,” says Woodmere Art Museum curator Matthew Palczynski, “underscore the major contributions Philadelphia’s artists have made in 20th- and 21st-century art, an impact that we’re continually unpacking.”
These exhibitions are accompanied by a series of discussions, lectures and tours, as well as the student exhibition, “Dream Explore Discover,” on view now through July 1 in the Helen Millard Children’s Gallery.
Woodmere Art Museum is located at 9201 Germantown Ave. Admission to special exhibitions is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and free for students, children and museum members; exhibitions in the Founder’s Gallery and Helen Millard Children’s Gallery are free. More information at www.woodmereartmuseum.org or 215-247-0476.