The title of Woodmere Art Museum’s 72nd annual juried exhibition, In Front of Strangers I Sing, comes from the final line of Romanian poet Paul Celan’s “Night Ray.” This year’s jurors, Philadelphia artists Dona Nelson and Rubens Ghenov, thought the line applied to the show as a whole, which is mounted in the museum’s eccentric gallery space, in particular its grand rotunda.
“We were thinking of the museum as a strange piece of architecture,” Ghenov says. “It looks like a boat, or to me it looks like an asymmetrical opera house. We were thinking about the pieces in the show being these choir-like voices singing in front of strangers, so that line in the poem resonated with the feeling or the sentiment of the show.”
Unusually for the Woodmere, this year’s exhibition focuses strongly on conceptual work from young Philadelphia artists such as Anthony Campuzano, Ryan Foley and Virginia Fleming. There is little of the traditional landscape or abstract work the museum is usually associated with. That tendency emerged from a combination of the jurors’ tastes and the evolution of the selection process, according to Ghenov: “The pieces and artists we chose began to concoct a type of story. We began to see thematic elements appearing, which fortified our selections a little more.”
The themes that emerged, Ghenov says, deal with a particular Philly regionalism, and with a blending of artistic styles and approaches. “There’s a lot of work where disciplines began to cross over into each other. Photographs that were acting like paintings, sculptures that live as photographs, rugs and sculptures that are painted on — there was this interdisciplinary conversation going on.”
To illustrate, Ghenov points to a work by Frank Bramblett made up of countless scraps of notepaper. “From far away they look like a beautiful painting, but when you come up close they’re just pieces of paper with notes,” Ghenov says. “I think the piece hits at the heart of this show. Yes, they’re notes on sheets of paper that you can buy at Staples with a Sharpie marker, but when they’re all brought together they speak a painting language. There’s a slight abstraction to them, but simultaneously you know what those things are.”
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If you go
In Front of Strangers, I Sing: The 72nd Annual Juried Exhibition
May 25-Sept. 1
Woodmere Art Museum
9201 Germantown Ave.