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In Place: Contemporary Photographers Envision a Museum
October 1, 2016 - January 29, 2017
The exhibition, In Place: Contemporary Photographers Envision a Museum, on view at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut, October 1, 2016, through January 29, 2017, brings together artists Tina Barney, Marion Belanger, Adrien Broom, Kate Cordsen, Peter Daitch, Alida Fish, Ted Hendrickson, Sophie Lvoff, James Welling, and Tom Zetterstrom. The site of the Florence Griswold Museum has been a place of creative inspiration to artists for over a century. The painters of the Lyme Art Colony, who stayed at "Miss Florence's" boardinghouse beginning in 1899, turned her property and the surrounding landscape into subjects of iconic works of American art. With this history in mind, this select group of photographers was asked to focus their lenses and imagination on the Museum and create work that reacts to the historic site's landscape, collections, and story. "While motifs of art, history, and landscape emerge in the photographers' works, the variety of their expressions articulates how multifaceted the discipline of photography is today," notes Amy Kurtz Lansing, Curator at the Florence Griswold Museum. "Visitors will find a range of art, from representational to abstract, from film to video, and from historical to digital processes." (right: Adrien Broom, The Parlor, 2016. Digital C-print. 20 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the artist.)
In Place came about because of a milestone celebrated recently at the Museum. Eight decades ago, as Florence Griswold neared the end of her life, the riverside property she cherished was sold to pay her mounting debts. Between its founding in the 1940s and the late 1990s, the Florence Griswold Museum gradually reassembled these pieces of land, forming a historic site of over 11 acres. In 2016, the last remaining parcel in private hands was purchased by the Museum, restoring Miss Florence's original 13-acre estate. Through In Place, the photographers draw attention to unfamiliar edges and hidden treasures, delve into the past, and create narratives that reflect on personal histories and on the legacy of the art colony that came before them.
Time and Nature
Four photographers, Marion Belanger, Alida Fish, Ted Hendrickson, and Tom Zetterstrom consider the historic site in terms of nature and time's passage. Belanger immersed herself in the museum's landscape and collections, creating three studies -- Garden Study, Ranch House, and Outside Edge -- that appear as printed books (published by Roman Nvmerals), and as photographs on the wall. These images are juxtaposed with a video/sound piece and archival remnants that informed Belanger's research. Her project investigates how boundaries reflect changes upon the land and demarcate differences between the familiar and the unknown, the contained and the wild. With a wry sense of humor and playing off his interest in the intersections between time and place, Hendrickson surveys the evolution of the museum's landscape over the course of a year for his Lawn Series. These images and his others demonstrate changes not only in the passage of the seasons, but also the way visitors, and even mice, contemplate, occupy, and modify the landscape. Fish, who is the granddaughter of one of the Lyme Art Colony painters, delves into the artist Willard Metcalf's naturalist collection, which is housed at the museum. In her work, Fish seeks to create a world of her own invention from these organic materials, stating, "Time has taken its toll on many of the pieces. It is the persistent beauty of the objects that most interests me -- especially the fragility of the butterflies and moths." She shoots with a digital camera, and then turns to historic methods to process the images, transferring her archival pigment print photographs onto oxidized aluminum plates. The product is a unique object with a textured surface and an ethereal silvery hue that echoes that of the moths and butterflies depicted. Zetterstrom is known for his photography of North American trees and landscape, and as an engaged tree preservationist and activist. For him, the Museum's campus was a rich natural resource to explore and interpret. Zetterstrom choose to shoot in winter in order to better examine the scale and relationship of the trees to the surrounding architecture, a reflection of the artist's longtime interest in changes to the New England agrarian landscape.
Abstraction and Connection
Kate Cordsen, Peter Daitch, and Sophie Lvoff approached their consideration of place in abstract terms, producing work that takes the museum as a point of departure for formal and conceptual contemplation. Cordsen invokes the abstract works of Harry Holtzman and Piet Mondrian in the Museum's collection as the starting point for her work in the historic medium of cyanotype. Using abstract forms, she composes her large-format photographs through a demanding process that requires both physical, painterly dynamism, and chemical precision. In this way, Cordsen explores the tension between chance, accident, and control. For her large-scale Murmurations (Cyanotype on gessoed linen, 51 x 120 inches) Cordsen uses pliage, a fabric folding technique, to create the whirling arcs of the migrating swallows that swoop and soar over the nearby Connecticut River. Daitch takes landscape and architecture as a starting point, but uses his camera to transform and simplify them into formal elements of light, color, and shape. His work recalls that of the Tonalist painters who visited Old Lyme in its rendering of the landscape in subjective terms. Lvoff's project operates on several levels. She researched Florence Griswold and the community of artists she created, the museum that has grown into, and the town whose enduring tourist appeal derives from those historical connections. Using a historic process, Van Dyke brown prints, in which the photographic emulsion is applied in painterly strokes to create a sepia-toned image, Lvoff replicated transparencies of paintings and historic photographs from the museum's collection. As a tribute to the legacy of the artists who have come before her, Lvoff took color photographs of icons in the town such as the Griswold house and the First Congregational Church, as well as a barbershop shot in homage to the legendary vernacular photographer Walker Evans, who lived in Lyme. Lvoff's multimedia installation incorporates postcard records of her research, archival objects, and film footage.
Houses and Stories
Artists Tina Barney, Adrien Broom, and James Welling use the iconic Griswold House as a catalyst for their work. A pioneer of large color photography as fine art, Barney continues her exploration of the visual and emotional connections between people and their surrounds using the historic Griswold House as a backdrop. "I'm interested in relationships, people, the way they move and the way they walk, the way a room is set up. The sociological. It's like I have blinders on," Barney states. "I see the formal parts of putting a picture together, paired with the human figure, and human emotions." Barney describes the Griswold house as a "visual feast" that served as "mysterious and timeless" stage set for her models. Broom, known for her elaborately constructed and often fantastical scenes, uses the Griswold House as a muse for a narrative that invokes memory, loss, and the continuity of relationships over time. A model placed in the historic rooms recalls Florence Griswold and the community of friends she created. Broom's use of dramatic staging and lighting in her images suggests that the legacy of Miss Florence and the artists poignantly endures. Welling explores the museum and artistic heritage of the area through the lens of family history and his personal experience as an artist who first shot photographs in Old Lyme in the 1970s. A groundbreaking photographer who has pushed the medium in new directions through experimental color photographs and camera-less photograms, Welling returns to conventional methods for his continuing Life Studies series, of which the recent Old Lyme work is part. Welling turns everyday household objects and fragments of architecture into springboards for remembrance, completing a family narrative that began eighty-five years ago when his grandfather studied art with Lyme Impressionist painter Wilson Henry Irvine.
Most of the ten photographers selected for In Place are established artists; they have challenged their medium, constantly exploring technique and theme in new directions prompted by this project. Several are younger, emerging artists who continue to push themselves and their art in exciting ways. In a world where virtual images inundate society through digital channels, these photographers have rediscovered on the viewer's behalf the inspiring, fulfilling, and thought-provoking potential for connection to place.
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