The Woodmere Annual 76th Juried Exhibition
The Woodmere Annual is a juried exhibition open to artists living within 50 miles of the Chestnut Hill art museum. In it's 76th year, Woodmere Art Museum selected a timely theme, and they "invited artists to submit work that contends with the importance of art in an era of heightened political uncertainty." The exhibit is juried by Harry Philbrick who is the Founding Director of Philadelphia Contemporary. Michael Lieberman tells us more.

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A CALL FOR COMPASSION

“Art is the process by which, in imagining itself and the relation of individuals to one another and to it, a society comes to understand itself, and by understanding, discover its possibilities of growth.”
– Robert Penn Warren

Oscar Page, Jr. Refugee Woodmere Museum
“Refugee,” 2016, Oscar Page, Jr., Oil on canvas 24 x 30 inches, Image courtesy of the artist.

Woodmere’s 76th Annual Exhibition is focused upon the alarming political reality and heightened political uncertainty that we currently face in the United States. Juried by Harry Philbrick, the past director of PAFA’s museum, and now the founding director of Philadelphia Contemporary, the show’s approximately 50 works on display by 37 Philadelphia-area artists** are a vivid and unequivocal testament to human and environmental truths, painful and tragic, which have been denied, distorted, or ignored by those now in power, who cruelly seem not to care.

Tim Rusterholtz Putin Woodmere Museum
“Putin,” 2017, Tim Rusterholtz, Insulation foam, 24 x 24 x 56 inches, Image courtesy of the artist.

The exhibition begins just outside of the museum’s rotunda on a satiric note as you are greeted by Tim Rusterholz’s sculpture of Vladimir Putin’s plump, nude body, its arms and legs cut off, and its backside facing you. Constructed from carved pink insulation foam, the piece is like a recovered Greek statue that didn’t quite make it into the Louvre. Putin’s piggy coloration and plumpness, like so much of the commentary about our own current president, makes you laugh until you cry.

Things take a far more serious tone after that.

Like this year’s Documenta 14, which features work concerning racism, nationalism, capitalism, and the violence fueled by all three in Europe, the themes that confront you in the Woodmere show include all of the above plus sexism, eco-disaster, gender discrimination, gun violence, and the decline of small town America.

Tim Portluck Farm Locks Gallery
“Farm,” 2011, Tim Portluck, Archival pigment print 54 x 72 inches, Image courtesy of Locks Gallery.

A call for environmental justice

A good number of pieces in the exhibition portray our endangered natural and built environments in disturbing images.

Flora Ward wrote about Tim Portlock’s work when it appeared at Locks Gallery in 2016. Using 3D gaming technology, photography, animation and various digital slights of hand to simulate urban landscapes, Portlock brilliantly dramatizes the displacement of industries and people from many of our urban environments, the result of forces that owe their existence to histories of political, economic and racial injustice. His “Farm,” pictured here, is a fine example of Portlock’s stirring dystopian vision of an urban area stripped of its humanity.

The plight of refugees

It’s impossible when faced with the immigration crisis and the terrible plight of refugees in the world today to overlook the fate of children, of the innocent. Children caught in the struggles of their families simply to survive, to escape war and poverty, to enjoy the security that most of us take for granted. The pathos of Oscar Page’s oil on canvas “Refugee,” pictured above, speaks for itself.

Page’s plaintive portrait, together with a number of other pieces in the exhibition, serve as sad reminders of the suffering being imposed upon immigrant and refugee children and families when quotas and walls and deportation policies replace compassion.

Sascha Hughes-Caley 5,646.86 mi (9,087.73 km)
“5,646.86 mi (9,087.73 km),” Sascha Hughes-Caley, Video, 1 minute, 13 seconds, Image courtesy of the artist.

A call for empathic engagement with the world

Six videos feature in the exhibition: I’ll point out one — Sascha Hughes-Caley’s short, chilling piece, “5,646.86 mi (9,087.73 km).” In the video, three children stand in front of a large 3-D television in a Costco. The kids are wearing 3-D glasses, and they’re trying to catch a flurry of balls that appear to be coming at them from the display. But in the audio feed, in place of the sounds of a busy Costco and delighted children, you hear the sounds of a street filled with people and traffic, and a small child singing in Arabic, in Aleppo, Syria, 5,646.86 miles away. The soundscape then abruptly changes to that of a bomb detonating, a suicide bomber’s work, and the ensuing chaos in the street, including the panicked voices of children.

In her note accompanying this piece, Hughes-Caley wonders how we can lead our children towards “empathetic engagement with the world.” I’d expand her question to wonder how we can lead our country towards “empathetic engagement with the world.” How can those of us who live in safety and security, escaping in our own ways, and not unlike the American children in the Costco in Hughes-Caley’s video, awaken ourselves to the suffering experienced by many around the world?

Theodore A. Harris Purple Hearts Bleed
“Purple Hearts Bleed,” 2008, Theodore A. Harris, From the series Collage and Conflict, Mixed media collage, 15 x 50 inches, Image courtesy of Winston and Carolyn Lowe Collection.

War

“Purple Hearts Bleed,” a collage by Theodore A. Harris, is one of a number of striking pieces in the exhibition that remind us of the impacts of war and militarism upon our culture. Jennifer Zarro interviewed Harris for the Artblog in March, 2016.

The Purple Heart Medal is awarded to American soldiers wounded in combat. Harris’s piece is an homage to those to whom the medal is not awarded, such as the innocent victims of war and violence, and veterans with invisible wounds.

It is always difficult to write about a group show, particularly one like this with an abundance of robust and beautiful work. For every piece that I have spotlighted, and which moved me, know that there are handfuls of others in the exhibition of equal strength which deserve attention. Reflecting what is occurring in today’s art world, the exhibition includes works of multiple modalities – painting, collage, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, video, and performance.

In the current political environment in our country, in which support for the arts (and sciences) appears to be waning, exhibitions like this Woodmere Annual, which feature the work of a collection of talented and insuppressible artists, and are focused upon some of the most important social and political issues confronting us, become all the more important.

The exhibition will be on view through September 4th.

**The artists whose work appear in the exhibition are:

LINDA LEE ALTER, EMILY BELSHAW, MARIEL CAPANNA, JACINTHA CLARK, FRANCESCA COSTANZO, EMILY ERB, TERRENCE GORE, SUSAN HAGEN, CHARLES HALL, THEODORE A. HARRIS, NISHAT HOSSAIN, SASCHA HUGHES-CALEY, JANE IRISH, LIZ JOHNSON AND WARREN BASS, MELISSA JOSEPH, MELISSA MADDONNI HAIMS, TILDA MANN, MARIE MANSKI, ANNE MINICH, OSCAR PAGE, TIM PORTLOCK, MATTHEW PRING, JACK RAMSDALE, ANA VIZCARRA RANKIN, MIA ROSENTHAL, TIM RUSTERHOLZ, ROSALIND SUTKOWSKI, JACQUES-JEAN TIZIOU, MAT TOMEZSKO, KUKULI VELARDE, HILARY WANG, VIRGINIA LEIGH WERRELL, ASHLEY WICK, RACHEL WINSLOW, MEG WOLENSKY, and RACHEL ZIMMERMAN

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ana vizcarra rankin, anne minich, ashley wick, CHARLES HALL, EMILY BELSHAW, emily erb, FRANCESCA COSTANZO, Harry Philbrick, HILARY WANG, Jacintha Clark, jack ramsdale, JACQUES-JEAN TIZIOU, jane irish, kukuli velarde, LINDA LEE ALTER, LIZ JOHNSON AND WARREN BASS, marie manski, Mariel Capanna, mat tomezsko, MATTHEW PRING, MEG WOLENSKY, MELISSA JOSEPH, melissa maddonni haims, mia rosenthal, NISHAT HOSSAIN, OSCAR PAGE, philly, RACHEL WINSLOW, rachel zimmerman, ROSALIND SUTKOWSKI, SASCHA HUGHES-CALEY, susan hagen, TERRENCE GORE, The Woodmere Art Museum, theodore a. harris, TILDA MANN, tim portlock, tim rusterholz, VIRGINIA LEIGH WERRELL, woodmere annual

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