Body Language: The Art of Larry Day

09/25/2021
01/23/2022

Larry Day (1921–1998) was a distinguished painter and a dominant force in American art from the 1950s through the 1990s. Day will be celebrated in his centenary year, 2021, by a three-part exhibition taking place in Philadelphia at three locations, Woodmere Art Museum, the University of the Arts, and Arcadia University. The exhibitions will explore Day’s singular contributions to the art of his time and the lasting power of his observations and imagination. The three-part exhibition will include work from the 1950s through the 1990s.

At Woodmere, Body Language: The Art of Larry Day will focus on figurative paintings, drawings, and sketches. From the 1960s onward, Day’s work was characterized by incisive linearity, nuanced color, and mysterious allegorical subjects that are strange, intriguing, and deeply inventive. The University of the Arts’ exhibition will explore Day’s abstract painting of the 1950s and Arcadia’s exhibition will explore his cityscape and architectural subjects.  

The exhibition’s curator is David Bindman, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art, University College London and Visiting Fellow at the Hutchins Center, Harvard University. Bindman was Day’s long-standing friend.

This fully illustrated catalogue will focus on Day’s working process and relationships between his paintings and drawings, with essays by exhibition curator, David Bindman; Jonathan Bober, Andrew W. Mellon Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Eileen Neff, Guggenheim Foundation fellow who studied with and subsequently was a teaching colleague of the artist’s; and Sid Sachs, Director of Exhibitions, Rosenwald–Wolf Gallery at the University of the Arts. Also featured are  previously unpublished essay by poet/critic John Hollander; and a “memory portrait” by retired National Gallery of Art curator Ruth Fine, who met Day in 1959 and married him in 1983; a lengthy chronology; and a selection of Day’s extensive writings including an early work of fiction, and essays about Poussin, Matisse, and Rauschenberg.

Born Lorenzo del Giorno to an Italian father and a Scottish mother in Philadelphia, where he spent most of his life, Day served in the Pacific campaign of World War II, after which he attended college on the GI Bill. He graduated from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in 1949, also earning a degree in education there the following year. Almost immediately thereafter, he began his career as an instructor, briefly in the Philadelphia public schools, but primarily as an anchor figure in the painting department of the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) from 1953 to 1988 and the graduate school of the University of Pennsylvania. Day was revered as a “guru” by his peers and students.

Day’s work is represented in numerous museum collections, including the British Museum, London; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Rhode Island School of Design Museum; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and Woodmere Art Museum.  

Woodmere is seeking to fully represent the breadth and depth of Day’s accomplishments and would welcome expressions of interest from other museums interested in hosting the exhibition. We also encourage collectors, friends, and museum colleagues to share stories about Day and alert us to works of art that we may not know. We also welcome information and photographs of works to be considered for inclusion in the exhibition. Please contact Rachel Hruszkewycz, Assistant Curator, at rhruszkewycz@woodmereartmuseum.org.