Posted January 28, 2010

Jack Wolgin, force behind Tyler's international arts competition, dies at 93

Jack Wolgin, the Philadelphia developer, banker and philanthropist whose gift of $3.7 million to Temple's Tyler School of Art in 2008 established the Jack Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts, died on Tuesday, Jan. 27, at his home in Florida at the age of 93.

"Jack Wolgin was a visionary," said Temple President Ann Weaver Hart. "Temple University, the Tyler School of Art and the citizens of Philadelphia owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude. The Jack Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts has enhanced the university's and the city's reputations as arts leaders — not just in the nation, but in the world. The lives of Philadelphians and students will be forever enriched by the iconic public art Jack commissioned and the world-class artists that the competition will bring to the city."

The annual competition created by Wolgin's gift — the largest received by Tyler since the school's inception — recognizes an emerging artist whose work transcends traditional boundaries and exemplifies the highest level of artistic excellence. Winners receive a $150,000 award, the world's largest juried prize awarded to an individual visual artist by a university.

Photo by Kim Sargent
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In October 2009, Tyler announced that Ryan Trecartin, a Philadelphia-based artist known for his innovative and collaborative video practice, won the inaugural competition. Wolgin attended the ceremony and handed Trecartin the winner's prize.

Before establishing the Jack Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts, Wolgin was best known in the art world for his influential public art commissions in the Philadelphia, including Claes Oldenburg's "Clothespin" (1976), an enormous sculpture that Philadelphia Inquirer culture writer Stephan Salisbury has called "the piece that has probably done more than any other work of art or architecture to redefine the [Philadelphia] cityscape."

"Jack Wolgin's support of art that seems radical for its time — be it the Oldenburg 'Clothespin' or Ryan Trecartin's video art — testifies to his boldness," said Therese Dolan, a Tyler faculty member and former interim dean. "His most enduring legacy will be the creative dialogue sparked by the cutting edge visual works he has subsidized."

A native Philadelphian and active civic leader, Wolgin wanted the competition to do more than just reward individual artistic excellence. In 2008, he told the Temple Times that he hoped the competition would be an economic engine for the city by attracting attention and visitors. Part of the reason for choosing Temple, Wolgin said, was the university's unique ability to reach a wide range of audiences in the city, particularly since the Tyler School of Art moved from the suburbs to a new, $75-million facility on Temple's Main Campus. Wolgin insisted that an exhibition of the work of the finalists at Tyler's expansive new Temple Gallery was part of the competition. Thousands of visitors attended the first "Jack Wolgin Fine Arts Prize Finalists Exhibition" last fall, including hundreds of students and at least one large group of Philadelphia schoolchildren.

"I believe it is important for the population to see and experience art so it becomes part of daily life," Wolgin said in 2008. "By having the [competition] at Temple University's Tyler School of Art, the work of great artists will be seen by (and be an inspiration to) students and Philadelphia residents of all backgrounds…Because Tyler [is] part of the city, the art inspired by the Wolgin Prize will be part of the city."

Wolgin is survived by his daughter, Barbara Wolgin Burwick; six grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and his companion, Claire Boasi.

Services will be held on Sunday, Jan. 31, at 11 a.m. at Joseph Levine & Sons, 4737 E. Street Rd., Trevose, Pa. Burial will follow at Roosevelt Memorial Park, 2701 Old Lincoln Highway, Trevose.