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Mostly Photography and Signs and Signals


Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) will present Mostly Photography and Signs and Signals, two exhibitions that highlight art created since 1980 from the museum's collection. Mostly Photography gathers together approximately thirty works, providing an overview of the diverse paths artists have taken using this relatively young medium. Signs and Signals will offer a counterpoint to Mostly Photography, attesting to the continued vitality of contemporary art that relies on gesture, signs, brushstroke, and modeling.  The two exhibitions demonstrate the diversity of art and artistic media over the past two decades.


Mostly Photography: Art since 1980 from the Collection

Mostly Photography gathers together approximately thirty works including Gilbert and George's monumental Life Without End from 1982, measuring over 36 feet long, and Andy Warhol's famous Self Portrait of 1981.  The exhibition contains straight and documentary photography by Garry Winogrand, Allen Ginsberg, Larry Fink, and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as staged dramatic tableaux à la famous paintings or movie stills by Joel-Peter Witkin, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, and Tina Barney.  

Dream and nightmare imagery resulting from photographic distortion and manipulation is represented in work by Kiki Smith, Duane Michals, John O'Reilly, Boyd Webb, and Robert ParkeHarrison.  Examples of photography combined with other media is seen in printed collages by Tomie Arai, the multi-media work of Lorna Simpson, and the videos of Tony Oursler and William Wegman. Within the last twenty years digital processing and computer-based techniques have created revolutionary changes in photography. For example, Keith Cottingham's three portrait images look like photographs but are in fact digital fictions. Other work in the exhibition by artists such as James Turrell, Adrian Piper, and Vija Celmins are not photographs but have connections to the medium.  Curator Deborah Rothschild says, "Looking through WCMA's collection, it became clear that photography is our era's principal agent of artistic expression and reflection." Mostly Photography will be on view from January 24, 2004 through August 8, 2004. (right: Kiki Smith (American, b. 1954), My Blue Lake, 1995, Photogravure, Gift of the Artist, 95.14.)


Signs and Signals: Art since 1980 from the Collection

A counterpoint to Mostly Photography, Signs and Signals attests to the continued vitality of an art that relies on gesture, sign, modeling, and brushstroke.  The artists represented, including Willem De Kooning, Michael Singer, and John Walker, mine the dramatic power and immediacy of the artist's gesture at the moment of creation and with it, the ability to transfer pure emotion directly onto canvas or paper. Gilberto Zorio, Judy Pfaff, Inka Essenhigh, and Tom Burckhardt, unite expressive technique with organic forms that often refer to natural processes and events.   For example, Zorio's sculpture, Sifnos Stromboli, consists of a crucible containing acid and crystals that create a reaction over time. Thus, the piece is in a constant state of flux and alchemical change. The work of Robert Mangold is more restrained; for over forty years he has used a minimalist formal language that relies on simple geometric shapes and un-modulated color to convey meaning. "Realistic" pictures with identifiable subject matter are also included.  Ida Applebroog's Boboli Gardens and Nancy Spero's Sheela and The Dancing Figures carry painterly and expressive subtexts conveyed through pictographs and signs.  Matt Mullican's Railway Station, based on a nineteenth century print, is embedded with hieroglyphs that constitute a private cosmology. In Glen Ligon's stenciled text, the letters function both as aesthetic forms that possess a strong physical presence and words that jar us into awareness of the racial discrimination which still plagues our country. Thus, whether the artists have created recognizable subject matter or not, they share an impulse to communicate primarily through the signs and signals of visual language where surface texture, line, color, gesture, and composition reign.  Signs and Signals will on view from January 24, 2004 until April 25, 2004.

Both exhibitions have been organized by Deborah Rothschild, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.


Related Public Events

The museum will also be hosting several related events in 2004 that focus on Contemporary Art.


Gallery Talk @ 12:10 with Martha Buskirk, critic.
Wednesday, April 7, 12:10 p.m.­12:50 p.m.
Lecture with Glenn Ligon, artist.
Wednesday, April 14, 7:00 p.m.
Family Week: All Things Contemporary.
Tuesday-Friday, April 20-24, 10 am-12 pm and 1 p.m.-3 p.m.
Lecture with Michel Auder, artist.
Wednesday, April 21, 4:00 p.m.
Lecture with Matt Mullican, artist.
Wednesday, April 28, 7:00 p.m.
Gallery Talk @ 12:10, Blake Stimson, critic. [Tentative]
Wednesday, May 5, 12:10 p.m.­12:50 p.m.

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