“Saint Rita in Ecstasy” by Anthony Visco, part of the Woodmere’s permanent collection included in the exhibit of religious work.

“Saint Rita in Ecstasy” by Anthony Visco, part of the Woodmere’s permanent collection included in the exhibit of religious work.

by Angela Sanders

The Woodmere Art Museum will welcome Pope Francis from now until Oct. 18 with “Biblical Art from the Permanent Collection,” an exhibition revealing biblical stories interpreted by local Catholic and non-Catholic artists.

Woodmere aims to express deeply felt faith and comment on contemporary issues, according to its website woodmereartmuseum.com. This collection, showing works by artists from distinct social and historical contexts in the Philadelphia region, presents a variety of media and includes works by Paul Gorka (b. 1931), Anthony-Petr Gorny (b. 1950), Benton Spruance (1904-1967), and Walter Stuempfig (1914-1970), among others.

According to Rick Ortwein, Woodmere’s deputy director and curator, there are about 35 pieces in this exhibition chosen from a larger group of nearly 100 pieces, said Ortwein. He explained that there was not enough space to display everything.

Some of the selected pieces have never been shown before at the Woodmere. The museum has stored these pieces in a highly secured, temperature-controlled vault because they never quite fit in with any other exhibition until now, Ortwein said. Other works have been displayed at Woodmere in the past, but have not been highlighted as religious or spiritual works.

One work debuting at the Woodmere is “Easter Morn” by Marguerite Gaudin (1909-1991), a pen and ink on paper, which was likely the design for a stained-glass window.

Another interesting detail is that the artworks are placed purposefully, and their placement reveals a dialogue between the artworks themselves, Ortwein said.

“You have a very realistic image here,” he said, gesturing toward “Untitled (Cross)” by Michael Ciervo (born 1982), an oil and enamel on EPS board. “There’s a big cross with a light in the center, and it certainly radiates spirituality. This little space here, I consider, kind of the sanctuary of the exhibition. It’s meditative. It’s a place where something supernatural is going on.”

We turned toward the opposite wall to gaze at “Locusts (Eighth Plague)” by Razel Kapustin (1908-1968), an abstract oil on board painting and an almost violent representation of the locusts. These two paintings were placed to counterbalance one another, Ortwein said.

Free tours of the collection take place at 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Sept. 23 and 30, and Oct. 7 and 14. Those interested will meet at the front desk. No reservations are required.

The Woodmere also presents a gallery talk “Contemplating the Divine in Art” at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, a free talk in which Sister Kathleen Szpila, SSJ, Ph.D., an assistant professor of art history and coordinator in the Foundations in the Liberal Arts program at Chestnut Hill College, will examine a selection of modern artworks in the exhibit that draw from the Bible and the age-old times of faith.

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