Philadelphia is a city well-regarded for its art collections. Distinguished institutions like the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the groundbreaking Moore College of Art have cultivated outstanding talent for decades, while the breathtaking visage of the Philadelphia Museum of Art itself attracts visitors from around the globe, inviting them to take in its rooms of stunning works—and run those rear steps. But while each of these renowned facilities can be counted among the feathers in our civic-artistic cap, too few people (both here and abroad) are aware of Chestnut Hill’s stately Woodmere Art Museum, dedicated solely to the expression and genius of Philadelphia artists.
Originally opening its doors in 1940, the 19th century Victorian mansion and the collection contained within was the passion of Charles Knox Smith. Born and raised in Kensington, Smith managed to do well for himself, despite his modest beginnings, and decided to establish a staggering 2,000-piece collection of art that focused specifically on showcasing his beloved Philadelphia through various mediums. Not only has the Woodmere collection grown since then, but its initial mission of focusing on art and artists from the region has helped it develop a proud niche for itself.
Rachel McCay, Woodmere Art Museum’s assistant curator, chatted with PW about what art lovers can expect from the 2014 Woodmere Annual Juried Exhibition—affectionately known as the Annual—its yearly showcase for which 50 pieces by area artists are selected for display, each using our fair city as a source of inspiration. This year’s juror, Sarah McEneaney of Locks Gallery, painstakingly chose a wide array of mediums and styles to convey what it means to live here.
“There are six different mediums, including paintings, mixed media pieces, sculpture and more,” said McCay. “About 35 percent of the collected work is abstract, 25 percent city and landscape work, while roughly 30 percent falls under portraits or still life. The remaining 10 percent of collected pieces couldn’t be classified at all, lending validity to the breadth and exclusivity of the myriad of talented artists within this city.”
PW: What are some of the more startling elements of this year’s Annual?
RACHEL MCCAY: There’s a strange balance of happiness and sadness throughout the show. It’s certainly a colorful exhibition, so when you immediately walk into the gallery, you’re taken by the abundance of pinks and greens and yellows, but there’s also a lot of various figures and expansive landscapes that can convey feelings of sadness and loneliness. I think those two threads of the exhibition interact in interesting ways. When you get close and really look, that’s when you see these moments of poignant suffering and introspection, which are mainly expressed through a lot of deep blues and oranges. There’s a lot of figuration as well, lots of recognizable images which is also somewhat welcoming when you walk into the space.
How has the Woodmere Annual impacted your experience living in Philadelphia?
Well, we require the participants to fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire asks them what artists or what other works of literature there are that have influenced them, what are some of their recent career accomplishments and specifically what their working process is. What the Woodmere Annual does is it makes everyone aware of the artist collective and the current initiatives that are going on throughout the city that I personally would not have been aware of otherwise. By including various members of these different groups or collectives, it gave me a better idea of what was going on in the city. What we wanted to convey with this exhibition and what Sarah hopes that people take away from the exhibition is that it’s a small survey of the contemporary trends in Philadelphia, and that it’s by no means meant to be comprehensive or to say that these are the only paths artists are taking in their careers. But it is certainly a good swath of approaches, styles and conceptual underpinnings that reflect the current artistic trends in this city.
What can people expect from the Annual this year that wasn’t present during previous exhibitions?
Historically, the exhibition was restricted to members, but that changed decades ago. Last year’s exhibition, in particular, featured a lot of paintings about painting and paintings about what the place of an artist is within society. In this year’s exhibition, if anything, I think people can expect more narrative in the work, more autobiographical pieces—lots of figurative and representational work largely, but there is abstract work as well. I’m hesitant to say what people can expect, though, because people should be open to experiencing the various pieces for themselves.
Through Mon., Sept. 1. Open House is Sat., June 28, noon. Free. Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave. 215.247.0476. woodmereartmuseum.org