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Some art exhibitions sound good on paper but don’t deliver the goods. Interplay: Art • Audience • Architecture, a sculpture exhibition at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, works on multiple levels—largely because of the delightful quality of the sculpture itself. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the venue—the light-splashed atrium of the Rafael Viñoly-designed Perelman Center—is several architectural cuts above most hospital spaces.

Interplay is actually a series of three exhibitions emerging from a partnership between Penn Medicine and the Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia; this first installation runs through February 26, 2010.

“There are art exhibitions at hospitals around the country,” says Marsha Moss, a Philadelphia-based public-art curator and consultant. “But rarely do they reach the level of quality of this work. My thinking is, the medical staff is world-class. The equipment is state-of-the-art. The architecture by Rafael Viñoly is stunning. So the artwork should not be any less than this standard.”

Given that Moss was the one who selected the artwork, her view may be somewhat biased. But as the accompanying images show, it’s hard to argue with her.

“Our greatest hope was that the exhibition would spark a smile, laughter, animated discussion among patients, care providers, and visitors,” says Judy Schueler, vice president for organizational development and chief human-resources officer for the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

After a hallway conversation with Beth Johnston, executive director of CPUP (Clinical Practices of the University of Pennsylvania), who had heard from faculty and staff about the need to bring in some color and vitality, Schueler approached Karen Davis, president and CEO of the Arts & Business Council. They agreed that whatever form the exhibition took, it should “create an environment that would be uplifting, fun, and engaging for both the center’s visitors and patients as well as the medical staff,” notes Davis—who then called Moss, whose forte is installations in public spaces.

“The idea of interplay became an intrinsic element of the design of the exhibition and inspired the title,” says Moss. As she began contacting artists, she found herself thinking of an “undercurrent or thread about transformation and rebirth and renewal, as it can be expressed through reuse material and found objects and industrial materials, transformed into sensual and graceful forms.” When it came to selecting the individual works, she thought about their need to have a “lasting effect, a capacity to grow, and to develop new meanings” for the hospital personnel who pass those works multiple times a day.

For the Perelman Center’s patients and their families, “I believe that artwork can touch the most basic feelings of wonder and play and memory,” Moss adds. “People come from the broadest range of backgrounds, and I think there are some works that will speak very positively to everyone. Others may not, but there will be something for everyone, because there are human values that we all share—values like hope, inspiration, and humor.”


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