“The Poker Game” by Larry Day.

by William R. Valerio

Woodmere, like all art museums, benefits from the process of organizing its exhibitions, assembling information in order to know our collection better and share the pleasures of works of art.

I mention this by way of inviting every reader of the Chestnut Hill Local to Woodmere this coming Saturday, July 20, from 2 to 5 p.m., for an opening of “The Poker Game” and “Its Circle”, an exhibition on view through Oct. 26 that interprets a special work of art in Woodmere’s collection: “The Poker Game” (1970), by the artist Larry Day (1921-1998).

Day is an artist we should all know. His work is found in the collections of major museums across the country, and he was revered as a guru in the art community of Philadelphia in his time. He taught at Tyler and The Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now University of the Arts), and was an accomplished abstract painter in the late 1950s, actively participating in the movement of Abstract Expressionism.

Then in the 1960s and 1970s he asked the important question of himself and of his fellow artists: Where do we go from here, now that modernism has brought painting to a seemingly elemental state of abstraction and gesture?

There were as many answers to that question as there are artists to consider, and Day, for himself, became a figurative artist who often portrayed the real and imaginary social interactions of the artists in his circle of friends. “Poker Game” is one such group portrait with iconic dimension that shows five artists – Dennis Leon, Jimmy Lueders, Armand Mednick, David Pease and Massimo Pierucci – who met on the first Sunday of every month, starting in 1963, for a discussion of art and a game of poker.

It took little time for the poker game to become the main purpose of the monthly meeting, with the discussion of art merged into the placing of bets, reading of bluffs, and interplay of the card game. In Day’s painting, all of this is a metaphor for the broad sweep of friendship and competition, honesty and deception that characterize the relationships that govern our lives.

The actual game of poker continues, now in its 50th year. One of its original players, Armand Mednick, resides in Mount Airy, and he proposed the concept for this exhibition to Woodmere a year ago. The exhibition will include other paintings and drawings by Day; ceramics works by Mednick; and the art made by the other poker players and by several other artists who were part of their circle in Philadelphia.

Two of these artists deserve special thanks: Mednick and Ruth Fine, who is also a noted curator. Day was her husband. We are grateful for their generosity in donating and lending works of art to Woodmere that have helped us build this snapshot of a moment in time in the creative trajectory of Philadelphia.

William R. Valerio, Ph.D., is the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO, Woodmere Art Museum

Woodmere Art Museum is located at 9201 Germantown Ave. For more information, call 215-247-0476 or visit woodmereartmuseum.org.

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