Arty party: PAFA’s annual student art sale

How's it hanging? (Photo by Meg Wolensky)

It’s happening at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The 113th Annual Student Exhibition begins with a party on May 9th, and the public is invited. You can dress like a timeless traditionalist in suit or gown. You can dress like a modern aesthete in bohemian chic. You can even, if your manners are sharp and your conversation is smart, dress like a starving Philly artist.

However you want to present yourself, you’re welcome on the inside. In this way, life imitates art school at PAFA. A world-class institution, PAFA welcomes students from lazy backwaters to jazzy capitals. Students course through the courses in their own style.

Some students have a sophisticated urban orientation and favor brainy abstractions. You’ll see their genius on display at the ASE: paintings, sculptures, and installations that rise to the occasion as lofty riddles whose meanings are more than the sums of their parts. You’ll be able to ask the super-nerd guarding a trophy creation, “How did you do that?”

Similarly, you’ll see icy brainiac work that comes so painfully close to triumphing that it pierces your heart. You’ll experience pathos where the artist intended to remove pathos from the viewing experience. Life is delicate and so are artists’ egos. Once you get in party rhythm, you’ll be able to go from artwork to artwork, from student to student, like a cozy guest. You’ll be critical, supportive, and credible in your commentary or wistfully silent and smiling.

PAFA also attracts realists. They’re not so much conservatives as traditionalists, who know that trends expire. What remains under the rush to create the next new thing is a foundation in craft that the traditions renew. Landscape, still life, and portrait painters have serious vocations that are baked into the bricks at PAFA. Their calling makes the ASE a great place to go on a Friday Night date. Mr. Yang will say that the old-fashioned realists are playing it too safe. Ms. Yin will say that they are the heroic preservers of a great lineage that will, if renewed to standard, last for all time.

This worthy argument echoes in every student's brain, creating headaches that can only be remedied through work, work, and more work. You’ll see the results at the Annual Student Exhibition. There’s colorful printmaking, novel electronic gizmos, and more as 128 students show 1,000 artworks. Cash awards and scholarships are given to the best. All artwork is for sale, and almost all graduating students have loans to pay (sales at last year’s ASE grossed over $270,000). At PAFA’s yearly finale, there is tension between the thrill of completion and the dread of the unknown. It makes the party buzz.


The 113th Annual Student Exhibition, May 9 through June 1, 2014, celebrates its public opening May 9, 5 to 8pm at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Samuel M. V. Hamilton Building, 128 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia. Graduating students compete for dozens of distinguished prizes and awards, including the Cresson Memorial Travel Scholarship and the Caldwell Purchase Prize, in which a work by a graduating student is selected for purchase by the Museum and inclusion in PAFA’s permanent collection.


of Bakersfield, CA on May 14, 2014

Vivid description of the tension between expression and validation amongst the range of characters. I wish I could have been there. Sounds like a blast!

Todd Jones

of Detroit, MI on October 26, 2015

What up, Jerome? Good to hear you're alive and kicking.

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