Stark Museum hosts ‘Enlarging the View; through Aug. 27
We often hear someone say that a work of art “speaks” to them. But what if they spoke to each other? Not literally, of course, but the latest exhibition at the Stark Museum of Art, “Enlarging the View,” certainly encourages dialogue.
In 2012, photographer Robert von Sternberg created The Museum Project, a loose group of photographers who would donate works to museums that would benefit from the donations.
Visitors to the Stark Museum are not used to contemporary art, but curator Sarah Boehme said they are looking to expand the collection and reached out to the project, eventually receiving 29 works from 10 different photographers.
Boehme then began to tackle the challenge to exhibit the works in such a way as to fit in with the museum’s philosophy. The works on their own were not enough to fill a gallery. So, Boehme paired the photos with pieces from the museum’s holdings – paintings and objects. The pairings would be loosely related stylistically and historically, creating a dialogue.
“Enlarging the View” is an interesting and challenging show, not because it is controversial, but because it requires the viewer to insert themselves in the conversations taking place in the gallery. The disparate works are not always easy to connect, and groupings will resonate differently with each person.
But that is true of any exhibition.
Pieces speak to us differently according to subject matter, color, the museum environment, even the time of day. Boehme’s choice of pairs (with the occasional trios) forces us to look at works that may be familiar in different ways. It is a clever conceit and one that pays off.
The first pair of images hints at wry humor. Von Sternberg’s “Silva Oil Company, Ventura, California” hangs next to Oscar Edmund Berninghaus’ “The Faithful Ponies.” Where is the humor, you ask? The ponies are tied up outside an Old West saloon, the vehicles of their day. “Silva” is a moody nighttime scene of an empty gas station. The two works, created almost a century apart, reflect two different modes of transportation. Stylistically, they could not be farther apart, but there is wit in their placement.
We find an even greater time difference in the pairing of Sheila Pinkel’s “Two Shrink-wrapped Fish from Safeway,” from 2016, and Mark Catesby’s Tang fish illustration from 1771. The only obvious connection, apart from the piscine, is the blue hues. But the interest is in the contrasting styles, with Pinkel’s digital xeroradiograph far different than Catesby’s careful documentation.
Melanie Walker’s “Saguaro Cactus with Ridgenose Rattlesnake” and Edward S. Curtis’ “Saguaro Harvest—Pima” make for an intriguing pair. Curtis’ vintage sepia-toned print from 1907 is a literal image of the cactus. Walker’s features a wrapped figure surreally replicating the cactus. Ironically, Walker distresses her negatives to replicate a vintage look.
Walker’s photos connected with me and her “Rabbit,” part of her “Endangered Species” series is a marvelously strange image of a person in a rabbit head holding a rabbit marionette. The distressed black and white print is both other worldly and unsettling in the best way. It is paired with John James Audubon’s “Grey Rabbits,” which the naturalist has drawn in such a way as to ascribe human familial traits to the group. The pairing is mesmerizing.
Barry Anderson’s “Sky, Sea and Railing, Mexico,” an almost geometric photo of a glass-smooth sea, the very epitome of calm, is contrasted with William Herbert Dunton’s roiling seascape “Crouching in the Stern with One Oar Deep, He Was Hurled on His Errand of Mercy.” The stillness of the former magnifies the fury of the latter.
“Enlarging the View” is an interesting experiment that is well worth a visit. If this is what comes from allowing the modern to infringe on the museum’s fine collection, it is to be hoped there is more to come.
The Stark Museum of Art is located at 712 Green Ave. in Orange. For more, visit starkmuseum.org.
This story first ran in the April 1, 2022 Art of Living section of The Beaumont Enterprise