ARTSY: Subterranean Homesick Blues

The Woodmere Art Museum is now exhibiting A Force Of Nature which documents a Philadelphia born-and-raised movement in contemporary visual art. The extensive retrospective focuses on Elaine Kurtz (1928-2003), who first debuted at Philadelphia Art Alliance, Gross McCleaf Gallery and Locks Gallery in the 1970s. The museum smartly deconstructs Kurtz into her elements.  Visitors first pass through an anteroom where her geometric and color studies demonstrate a highly analytical mindset. Some of these works are reminiscent of Gestalt images in that they trick the viewer. For instance, diametrically opposed spectrums of color create blind spots along their center, where entire sections seem to slip out of sight.  In the mid-80s, Kurtz departed from rigorous geometries and started incorporating organic materials. The next room (and the main event) shows works for which Elaine Kurtz became an art icon. Alabama red dirt, mica, sodalite, bronze, sand, pebbles, and other minerals are dyed and seamlessly affixed with acrylic to create 3-dimensional, textured surfaces. Standing before these works is an experience that cannot be replicated by words or images. The shimmering minerals, deep coloration, and high-relief textures provoke a visceral, earthy experience. You cannot almost feel the low rumble of shifting tectonic plates and taste the thin air of narrowing mine shafts. A new generation of Philadelphia artists has taken Kurtz’s opuses as inspiration and their experimentations are included in the exhibit, providing a deep and multifarious take on the blending of soul and visual mechanics.  The organization of the exhibit invites a deconstruction of the ideas at play in Kurtz’s work which heightened the experience, illustrating the way scientifically precise color palettes highlight and dramatize both the earthen textures and pre-historic narratives of paleontological strata. And for that all due praise to Woodmere’s new curator, Dr. Matthew Palczynski. The Kurtz exhibit was the first opportunity for Dr. Palczinski to make his mark on the public face of Woodmere and it is an auspicious debut. I’ll be back. — BRANDON LAFVING

A Force Of Nature is on display at the Woodmere Museum until April 22nd

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