Woodmere’s current exhibition “Group ’55 and Midcentury Abstraction in Philadelphia” is about a group of artists who came together in the mid-1950s to show their work and …
Woodmere’s current exhibition “Group ’55 and Midcentury Abstraction in Philadelphia” is about a group of artists who came together in the mid-1950s to show their work and share their ideas. These were visual artists, dancers, musicians, poets and architects who challenged conventions and overturned assumptions about taste, style and the very nature of art itself.
Their work accompanies the far better-known story of midcentury American design in our region. These are the painters whose work was meant to hang next to a Bertoia diamond chair or over a Knoll credenza. By far the most famous figure in the Group ‘55 story is architect Louis Kahn. Among the highlights of the show is a model for Kahn’s Trenton bathhouses and a wonderful mural he designed for the project with his associate Marie Kuo. While Kahn didn’t actually paint the original mural, he specified its geometries and structural logic. The rendition at Woodmere follows Kahn and Kuo’s instructions and reproduces the design in full scale.
On Thursday, October 29, at 7 p.m., Woodmere will host a Zoom lecture by Izzy Kornblatt, an architectural historian and Harvard graduate student. Kornblatt immersed himself in a series of previously unknown audio recordings, unearthed as part of the research for our exhibition, of Kahn speaking at Group ’55’s public forums at the Free Library of Philadelphia. He wrote about them for our exhibition catalog and will speak in his lecture about Kahn’s and the larger group’s understandings of modernism and their use of a vocabulary of form, shape and color to create meaning.
When you stop and think about it, the visual arts are incorporated into many of Kahn’s most well-known projects, whether in Trenton or at Bryn Mawr College, the Yale museums or the private homes that were commissioned across our region. Kahn’s architectural forms are sculptural to begin with. On top of this, the Group ’55 context offers a new way to think about the visual exuberance of his work. It also grounds his thinking in the climate of cultural change in Philadelphia in the 1950s, when abstract artists across the spectrum of practices were cracking open the shell of our city’s cultural scene. Registration is required for Kornblatt’s lecture, and here’s the link.
Woomere benefits from the intellectual generosity of our community in so many ways. We came to know Kornblatt through our friend and neighbor, architectural historian George Thomas, who is Kornblatt’s mentor at Harvard. Let me also encourage you to attend Thomas’s birthday-celebration lecture on Frank Furness being hosted on Zoom by the Athenaeum of Philadelphia on the evening of Thursday, November 12: philaathenaeum.org/.
William Valerio is the director of Woodmere Art Museum.