Philadelphia has a strong, storied history of realist art, from colonial portraiture through newspaper illustrations.
What Bill Valerio discovered, shortly after taking over as Woodmere Art Museum’s new director 18 months ago, was that a certain strain of the city’s art has long distorted that tradition in arresting, disturbing ways.
“These are artists in the 20th century who sought to convey something about the human condition by turning that mainstream realist tradition into something haunting and dark,” Valerio says, gesturing around the gallery now housing “Haunting Narratives: Detours From Philadelphia Realism, 1935 to the Present.”
The exhibition’s history of the uncanny begins in the 1930s, with artists like Benton Spruance, Leon Kelly and Robert Riggs, the latter represented by dark, cinematic print work. It traces their legacy through the likes of Sidney Goodman and Peter Paone up to contemporary artists such as Hiro Sakaguchi and Bo Bartlett, whose work suggests twisted stories whose particulars are left to the viewer to discern.
“The point of this show is that most of the art is very enigmatic, so there are stories that lead you to questions,” Valerio explains. “But they’re growing out of Philadelphia’s narrative tradition, only in a minor key, where the goal is to comment on life in society today.”
If you go
‘Haunting Narratives: Detours From Philadelphia Realism’
Through July 15
Woodmere Art Museum
9201 Germantown Ave.