Juried exhibit at Woodmere Art Museum offers visitors ‘a slice of Philadelphia’

 'Rio Grande Hot' by Sarah McEneaney (Courtesy of Sarah McEneaney)

'Rio Grande Hot' by Sarah McEneaney (Courtesy of Sarah McEneaney)

For the Woodmere Art Museum’s 73rd Juried Exhibition, 600 artists hoped their work would make the cut, but only 50 of them were chosen.

Sarah McEneaney, this year’s juror, spoke to NewsWorks fresh from more than two weeks on the Colorado River and Grand Canyon, just before returning to Philadelphia for the exhibition’s open house on June 28. 

Dogs in the studio

McEneaney’s work features personally-inspired, brightly colored, crisply realized yet whimsical landscapes, as well as urban, domestic, and studio scenes, full of dogs, cats, and people rendered with equal charm.

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She hand-makes her own egg tempura and gesso (a white material that primes the canvas or board for the paint), and in conversation, she gets right to the point.

“They asked me to do it, and I was happy and honored to do it for them,” the artist said of helming this year’s juried exhibit at Woodmere.

The artist’s career

Born in Munich, McEneaney said she grew up in the suburbs of New York City and came to Philadelphia for college in the 1970s — first at University of the Arts and then the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), from where she graduated in 1979.

“I came to Philadelphia for college and made it home,” she said of her decision to stay in the neighborhood where she’s been making and exhibiting work ever since, including a long list of solo and group shows.

McEneaney’s prestigious career includes Pew Fellowships in 1993, 2001, and 2002, and displaying her work in the public collections of institutions like PAFA, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rhode Island School of Design, and many others.

Building the show

McEneaney’s jurying process for this show began last February as she began to narrow down the online submissions. She says the work submitted naturally skewed toward painting, given the hopeful artists’ knowledge of her own career.

She doesn’t like to put her finger on her selection criteria for the 75 artists or so who made the first round, besides calling it an “intuitive” process of “yes, no, maybe.”

To further narrow down the field to the 50 artists represented (all from within a 50-mile radius of Philadelphia), McEneaney repaired to the rooms of Woodmere, where further looks at the work on the museum’s large screen, along with the input of Woodmere curators and organizers, refined the show still more.

Part of that came together more easily as works joined the “yes” pile.

“Works that stood out really strongly…would help in the selection of the others as I was winnowing it down,” the juror said of placing the submissions in context with each other and the Woodmere’s gallery.

The final collection came to 50 artists and about 80 works including paintings in oil, watercolor and acrylic, as well as pieces done in ink or charcoal, alongside photography, printmaking and mixed media, and a few sculptures.

Visually, there’s no single theme for the show.

“There’s a range of subject matter,” McEneaney said, noting that while most of the show tends toward her own style, representational painting, there are abstract works too.

A slice of Philly

“It’s sort of a slice of Philadelphia contemporary art, but what I like about contemporary art today is that I feel there’s all kinds of work being made, and it’s all being talked about and considered,” she said. “I want people to come and…have their own experiences.”

Woodmere Art Museum’s 73rd annual Juried Exhibition, with works selected by Sarah McEneaney, is on display through Sept. 1. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, and free for students, kids, and members of the museum. Entrance to special exhibitions is free to all on Sundays. For more info, visit the Woodmere Art Museum’s website or call (215) 247-0476.

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