There is something about the emerging that is vigorously urgent – that search for new textures, new perspectives, new strokes and finishes to teach us anew or re-inform our imaginations. This urgency is critical to engagement, to discovery, to freshness.
The first task of the artist is to get us to stop. And at Woodmere Art Museum in Chestnut Hill that is easier said then done. Their annual juried exhibition of emerging artists, now in its 72nd year, is situated in a rotunda room that invites viewers to stroll in a graceful circle across its floor and balcony. In its rhythmic way, the architecture encourages us to keep moving. So when we pause it usually means something good.
Artists Dona Nelson and Rubens Genov juried this year’s exhibition, searching through an unknown number of hopeful entires of contemporary artists living within a 50 mile radius of Woodmere. 52 made the cut. About a third got me really looking.
A year into Philadelphia now, the names have become familiar, gallery histories remembered, and MFA programs ranked, causing that stroll to become more critical, more reflected back on memory, and undoubtedly more judgement filled. The highlights of the exhibition were nearly all work on canvas – although Timothy Belknap’s sculptured marionette stomping on each calculated approach could not be wittier.
Jamie Felton’s The Towel that We Sank On delivered painted abstraction with a new sensibility. The massive canvas exudes lightness and embodies structure, balancing narrative with the capricious.
Frank Bramblett’s Accomplished (200-2013) is that work everyone will smile and chuckle at in instant recognition. The more you look that smile fades into deep concentration and reflection as images of your own to-do lists and the weight they momentarily held manifest in your mind. The complexity of the piece rises with each second spent in front of it.
And Larry Spaid’s piece from Mekong Series is that one you wish you could hang in your home and wake up to each morning. Its studied form and subtle textures is stunning. It was the work in the room I kept circling over to in adherence to the rotunda’s rhythm.
Other artists were also great. Catherine Mulligan’s contemplated scenes of Philadelphia landscapes had me centimeters away from the canvas. Jacque Liu’s structured drawings were both daring and lovely. And Matt Neff’s photographic and printmaking dualities delivered a richly conceptual work.
The exhibition – between its great and its mediocre – is important to visit. Getting swept up in that rotunda room, strolling and pausing, and occasionally really stopping and looking, is one of those dances in which we must continuously partake.