ARG exhibit highlights PAFA’s national influence

The Arthur Ross Gallery’s (ARG) upcoming exhibit, “Expanding the Audience for Art in the Nineteenth Century at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts,” highlights the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ (PAFA) influence in attracting more interest to the visual arts in the United States.

Opening on Friday, April 8, the exhibit features works by renowned artists such as Thomas Eakins, Maxfield Parrish, and Cecilia Beaux.

The exhibit, which runs through July 31, is a collaboration between Michael Leja, a professor in the Department of the History of Art in the School of Arts & Sciences, 13 students in his curatorial seminar, and PAFA and ARG staff.

“You never have 13 curators doing a show,” says Leja. “The conventional wisdom is that too many cooks spoil the broth. But they came together in an amazing way and made a feast.”

The students researched and selected items from PAFA’s collections and archives that illustrate the Academy’s efforts to draw in a larger and broader audience through new media, voices, and venues. 

The exhibition includes works produced through new media techniques in printmaking and photography, as well as art produced by women, celebrated African-American artist and former PAFA student Henry Ossawa Tanner, and Asian-American artists, such as Yasou Kuniyoshi and Ben Kamihira. 

As for new venues, the students selected for display PAFA’s plans for the building’s design by Philadelphia architect Frank Furness. The building was designed to be inviting as well as to handle large crowds. PAFA also made the advertising for its activities more attractive and creative.

“In the 19th century, there was a burgeoning middle class,” says Ramey Mize, a student in Leja’s class. “There was an industrial elite who were willing to be art patrons. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts was thinking about what type of audience they want to attract, and how they want to brand themselves to a mass audience.”

On Thursday, April 21, the ARG will be holding a public conversation with PAFA Archives Coordinator Hoang Tran along with three curatorial seminar students—Haely Chang, Tara Giangrande, and Annie Cross—who will discuss their research and how they selected items for the exhibit.

Programs and events related to the exhibition are scheduled through July. Admission is free. For details, visit the ARG website.