‘A True Visionary,’ Torchia Receives the 2013 Martha Washington Award

By whitlocd | June 11, 2013

Richard Torchia, director of the Arcadia University Art Gallery, received the 2013 Martha Washington Award at the annual end-of-year awards luncheon last month.

As director of Arcadia University’s Art Gallery, since 1997, Torchia has organized solo exhibitions for a host of renowned artists, including Ai Weiwei, Dave Allen, Francis Cape, Olafur Eliasson, Amy Hauft, Keith Haring and Candida Höfer, among others. He has organized thematic group exhibitions exploring subjects such as the childhood drawings of contemporary artists, nearly imperceptible art works, the sited gesture, photorealist painting, hand-drawn maps and contemporary images of the sea and sky. Such exhibitions have given the Art Gallery a reputation for bringing the work of internationally acclaimed visual artists to Arcadia.

This past February, the Gallery showcased the work of another internationally celebrated artist when it presented JG, a film project by Tacita Dean. Dean’s exhibition at Arcadia, along with the Gallery’s shows for Eliasson and Weiwei, were initiated prior to all three of these artists’ commissions for the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

Torchia graduated from Holy Cross College (Worcester, Mass.) with a bachelor’s degree in English. His interest in the photocopier as an artist’s tool led to his first curatorial project, a group survey for the Princeton Art Museum. From 1985 to 1987 he directed City Without Walls in Newark, N.J., the state’s oldest artist-run space. He served as the inaugural curator of the Levy Gallery for the Arts in Philadelphia at Moore College of Art and Design until 1995, organizing more than 40 exhibitions that featured the work of Philadelphia artists. Since joining Arcadia, Torchia edited the first monographs for Philadelphia-based artists Tristin Lowe and Bill Walton, both published by the University in 2007. And working with a team of interns and volunteers, in 2010 Torchia edited a historical index of Philadelphia-based artist-run spaces (from 1969 to the present) that was included in a publication marking the 21st anniversary of Vox Populi, the city’s oldest cooperative.

One colleague who nominated Torchia wrote:

The Arcadia University Art Gallery is staffed by only one full-time person—Richard. The amount of preparation that goes into the development and execution of an exhibition is staggering. His job on a regular basis involves grant writing, research and publication of catalogues, installation designs, logistical details and close working relationships with artists. He has molded the University Art Gallery into a first-rate gallery which has achieved local, national and international renown for exhibiting innovative contemporary art. The request of London’s prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum to borrow our exhibition Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn exemplifies the recognition the Arcadia Art Gallery has achieved overseas.

Another remarked:

Richard’s ability to bring such ambitious exhibitions to Arcadia is due to the impressive levels of external funding from significant public agencies such as the National Endowments for the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts and from important local foundations, including several major grants from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

A third colleague praised Torchia’s talent and character:

Richard is a true visionary. He challenges our students to think more deeply and to discover art across subjects, cultures and mediums. Yet, through all of his aforementioned successes, perhaps the most beautiful and cherished trait of Richard is his modesty. He is the most deserving of praise, yet is the last to seek the spotlight. His unpretentious manner and raw talent is held in high esteem on campus and within the international art community, and we are all the richer because of it.

The Martha Washington Award is presented annual to an Arcadia University faculty or staff member who displays consistent excellence, exceptional performance and lasting contributions to the University community. The distinction was created to honor Martha Washington, a housekeeper in Grey Towers Castle who began working for the school in 1946. Working (by her own account) without ever being late or missing a day of work until she retired more than three decades later, Mrs. Washington was known for her devotion to maintaining quality in all that she did.

Photo by Josh Blustein