by William Valerio

Steven and Billy Dufala, who work professionally as an artist team – the Dufala Brothers – assessed almost 600 submissions from artists across the region as the jurors of this year’s Annual at Woodmere.

We swing the doors open on June 27 at noon with an open house that I hope you will attend. The Dufala Brothers will also be speaking at Woodmere on July 11 at 3 p.m., describing their selections and the thematics of the exhibition.

The Dufala Brothers are known for their irreverent blurring of the conceptual boundaries between works of art and the material reality of daily experience. They have selected works by 88 artists, and have treated the installation process like one big work of art. The exhibition is as much a Dufala Brothers’ installation in its own right as it is a snapshot of the art being made in Philadelphia today as seen through the lens of their sensibilities.

As artists who use humor to address important social issues such as waste, consumption and housing, the Dufala Brothers have made selections for Woodmere’s Annual that are outwardly strange in a satirical, Pop-inspired way.

Tom Ead’s gigantic roll of toilet paper, for example, was made by rolling 105 individual rolls of paper into a gigantic single roll. Mounted on the wall, it’s concentric rings of paper sag down like a deformed minimalist sculpture – white-on-white – owning the exhibition’s general refutation of good taste and rejecting the notion of art as a precious commodity.

Juxtaposed immediately below it is a beautifully crafted, pristine cast in plaster of a bathroom mat made by Jonathan Santoro. Soft has become hard, and scale and proportion run amok as suddenly we are imagining a bathroom-gone-crazy. This is a twist of thinking that we don’t expect when enjoying the galleries of a museum.

Similarly engaged with a normally intimate action, Jim Biglan’s painting-that-becomes-sculpture may take the prize for most outrageous-in-show: In two dimensions fingers press in on a pink cheek, while a frozen projectile of clay puss explodes from a mountainous red pimple creating a sculptural element.

The gesture transcends all the politeness we expect in a museum, but the overriding idea of this exhibit is transgression. In the Dufalas own words, they were attracted to art in which they could see “worlds collide,” and they gave the example of Ritva Kangasperko’s painting, “3 Friends Reading a Hunting Magazine.” This work “blew my mind,” said Steven Dufala. Here, a nude man sits with two tigers; together and at ease, the three mammals read a book, entranced by pictures of deer. The triangle of strangeness inverts all notions of hunter and prey, viewer and viewed, pleasure and instinct.

More examples could be described, but not to be missed is an entire section of the exhibition dedicated to works that the jurors describe as “science-fictiony.” Not one, but two artists, Jesse Friedman and Diane Ross, explore the relationship between pizza and the box in which it is delivered.

Contemporary art can challenge the normative ideas of beauty and craft and, through humor or intellect, question the ideas of conventional wisdom. This sort of art is alive and well in Philadelphia today, and the Dufala Brother’s present their view of this with verve, guts, and imagination in Woodmere’s Annual. Visit Woodmere’s website for artist interviews and more, or – better yet – join us and meet Billy and Steven Dufala on June 27 or July 11.

William Valerio is he Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO at Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill.

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