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Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Acquires Pantocrator Triptych by Vincent Desiderio


As the first addition to its world-class American art collection since the deaccessioning of nearly 50 European works, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has acquired the monumental oil-on-linen Pantocrator triptych, 2002, by renowned artist, Pennsylvania Academy alumnus and instructor Vincent Desiderio.  

"Launched by the purchase of Desiderio's Pantocrator, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has embarked upon an expansion of our contemporary American collections," said Derek Gillman, President and Edna S. Tuttleman Director. "The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is deaccessioning European works in the first stage of our efforts to gather the premier collection of American art worldwide. The funds raised from these sales will only be used to acquire American works. (right: Vincent Desiderio, Pantocrator, triptych, 2002, oil on linen, 82 7/8 x 193 3/4 inches, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia)

"Through its first one and a half centuries," Gillman continued, "the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts principally collected paintings, sculptures and prints from living artists, often from our Annual Student Exhibition. Now, the Pennsylvania Academy has returned to that pivotal tradition of support for working American artists." 

A giant triptych nearly eight feet tall and over seventeen feet wide, Pantocrator by Vincent Desiderio challenges viewers with a fluid relationship between three painting panels: in the center, a spacecraft surrounded by the infinite blackness of space; on the right, a detail of Santa Maria DelFiore (Florence); and on the left, the image of a woman showering behind a clear plastic curtain. The Greek term "pantocrator" translates to "ruler of all," and is usually associated with images of Christ found in the apses of Byzantine basilicas. 

As in many of his triptychs, Desiderio employs a strategy of thwarted narrative. "The three images, composed with a kind of graphic urgency, are tantalizingly close to becoming sequential," he explained, "and yet they stubbornly resist linear orientation."  

Desiderio uses this manner of representation in order to evoke a sense of being ineffabale, while underscoring an artistic condition of deep cultural longing. It recalls Brunellesci's famous demonstration of seamless continuity, while recognizing the Byzantine character of our own fractured times. Pantocrator deals with the rationalization (architecture), invasion (showering woman) and domination (spacecraft) of space. 

The Pennsylvania Academy is expanding its contemporary American collection in preparation for the spectacular Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building opening in 2005.  

"The Hamilton building will house new galleries for contemporary American work, including Pantocrator by Vincent Desiderio" Gillman continued. "The Pennsylvania Academy is deeply grateful to Dolores Hamilton and the Hamilton family for allowing us to create far more space for the creation and exhibition of excellent American art.  We hope that this initiative, created through the deaccessioning of European works, will make it clear to the art community that the Pennsylvania Academy is now committed to collecting the art of our time."  In addition to three floors of additional gallery space, the Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building also will house six floors of studios for art students and faculty, and an outdoor painting terrace overlooking Center City Philadelphia." 

Marking the 200th Anniversary of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the opening of the new Hamilton Building will bring exhibition of American artwork full-circle--from the Pennsylvania Academy's founding in 1805 to a second grand opening with American works of our time. The completion of the Samuel M. V. Hamilton Building will create a campus atmosphere, bringing the art school and museum together for the first time in 40 years.


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