A still of Yangbin Park’s “Goodbte Mr. Kim.” The video is currently being shown at the Woodmere Art Museum.

by William R. Valerio

Woodmere’s 72nd Annual Juried Exhibition of contemporary art, currently on view – but only for a short time longer – engages with the increasingly vital and diverse community of Philadelphia’s living artists.

If you are curious about the city’s burgeoning art scene, but don’t often get to the new galleries and artist collectives of Fishtown and North Philly, you can come see Woodmere’s “Annual.” The last chance to see the exhibition is Labor Day, so please join us on Monday, Sept. 2, for our free open house, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Across the country and in Philadelphia, Labor Day has become a big day for visiting museums, and at Woodmere we are throwing the doors open and offering a glass of wine. We will also introduce the juror of next year’s “Annual.”

I can report that visitors have enjoyed the exhibition. One of the more unconventional works of art is placed right at the entrance to Woodmere’s rotunda-shaped Catherine M. Kuch Gallery, and our intent was to open the show with a bang – or rather with a tap. Timothy Belknap’s kinetic puppet sculpture, “Tin Box” (2013), is a marionette attached to a motion sensor that is activated as visitors enter the gallery.

The puppet, with its wrinkled face, black teddy-bear ears and disproportionately small body of black segments, taps his foot as if impatient, with a repeated hollow thud. Said one of our frequent visitors, “I want it for my office for meetings that drag on too long.” Those who pause to take it all in are also rewarded. A few visitors have asked me, “Who is this man? What does he represent?”

The consensus is that the answer lies somewhere in the combination of low-tech mechanisms, the repetitious tapping, and the figure’s enigmatic face, like a hollow mask of wrinkles and sags. He seems weary, as if worn down by the ongoing mechanical dance and the accumulated scars of life.

Video art has come to be a regular part of the vocabulary of contemporary art, and there are two videos in Woodmere’s show that are consistent stopping points for visitors. Yangbin Park’s “Goodbye Mr. Kim” (2012) describes the emotions of the artist, a young Korean American living in Philadelphia, who feels simultaneously near and far from Korea as world events evolve.

Dani Frid Rossi’s “Eat” (2012) seems to be funny at first. Nothing much happens between a beautiful nude woman and two dressed men who inhabit a green sofa placed on a stage of green fabric.

The woman stares out at us, confident and arresting, but her companions seem oblivious to the oddity of the situation. They are two ordinary guys, dressed as if for a casual day at the office, eating their sandwiches during their lunch break. “There is something wrong here,” is the frequent (correct) response, and visitors who know their art history take pleasure in deciphering a deeper reference.

The tableau of two dressed men and one nude woman, the specific pose and gaze of the woman, and the green environment refer directly to Edouard Manet’s once-scandalous “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” (or “The Luncheon on the Grass,” 1862-1863). Rossi reminds us that sexuality and the relationships between men and women are as enigmatic today as they were over 150 years ago in Paris at the dawn of modernity.

Art offers beauty, pleasure and exercise for the mind. Contemporary art in particular can be challenging because the forms need not be conventionally beautiful, and the content need not conform to expectations.

Please let us know what you think. Visit the blog associated with the Annual on Woodmere’s website, woodmereartmuseum.org, and join us on Labor Day!

William R. Valerio, Ph.D., is the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO at the Woodmere Art Museum.

Woodmere Art Museum is located at 9201 Germantown Ave. For more information, call 215-247-0476 or visit woodmereartmuseum.org.