The newest special exhibition at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center reaches grand heights. Touch the Sky is a multi-media exhibition that explores art related to astronomy. The exhibition will be on view April 29-August 21, 2016.
Featuring more than 50 works by 18 artists (including two site-specific works created especially for the show), Touch the Sky is part of a campus-wide celebration of the sciences, marking the opening of a new building on campus, the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences. A full checklist of objects in the exhibition can be found here.
Astronomy, the oldest of the natural sciences, can be traced back to antiquity with its origins in religious and mythological beliefs and it has been closely linked to artistic endeavors that date back to the Renaissance. Since then, artists’ interest in capturing the grandeur and mystery of the cosmos has not waned.
“In the modern age, technology and science have allowed us to see, understand, and record what lies beyond Earth more clearly than ever,” explains Mary-Kay Lombino, the Emily Hargroves Fisher ’57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator and Assistant Director for Strategic Planning. “This exhibition will not only appeal to art enthusiasts but to anyone who has an interest in the sky, stars, the sun and moon, and the vastness of the universe. Several artists in the exhibition use NASA images as source material for their artwork, giving the works a broad appeal.”
With a focus on contemporary art that gravitates towards the conceptual, the exhibition features astronomical observations, interpretations, and reimaginings by artists Laura Battle, Michael Benson, Matthew Brandt, Vija Celmins, Caleb Charland, Chris McCaw, Linda Connor, Teresita Fernández, Nancy Graves, Sharon Harper, Mishka Henner, David Malin, Lisa Oppenheim, Thomas Ruff, Lewis M. Rutherfurd, Kiki Smith, Michelle Stuart, Mungo Thomson, and Penelope Umbrico.
“Each of the artists in the exhibition brings a different perspective to the idea of the sky, whether it be stars, planets, the moon, the sun, a comet, a galaxy, or the entire solar system,” says Lombino, curator of Touch the Sky. Works in the exhibition include artist books, prints, drawings, paintings, photography, film, and a large-scale site-specific photomural by Mungo Thomson installed on a twenty-three-foot-tall wall in the Atrium Gallery. Another site-specific piece was created by Laura Battle, professor of studio art at Bard College. Battle created a sixteen-foot painting for Touch the Sky that will also be featured in the Atrium Gallery. The painting is structured on the spiral galaxy, an element of space studied by American astronomer Vera Rubin (Vassar College class of 1948).
Although Touch the Sky has a contemporary focus, the tradition of artists observing the skies was advanced by the dawn of photography in 1839 when Louis Daguerre attempted to capture an image of the moon. His attempt was considered a failure as it was out of focus and overexposed. However, in 1865, Lewis Rutherfurd, an amateur scientist and inventor of the first telescope designed specifically for astrophotography, made spectroscopic images of the moon using the wet collodion process and a specially corrected 290 mm photography lens. His surprisingly detailed photographs, one of which is included in the exhibition, were the best quality images of the moon for many years to come. Rutherfurd’s photo, Moon in First Quarter, is the oldest work in the exhibition and part of the Art Center’s permanent collection.
Other works in the show include photographs by Caleb Charland. To create the dark and dreamy photograph called Attempting to Paddle Straight at the Moon, Charland mounted his camera on a canoe and pointed it towards the full moon, which was just above the horizon. As he steered the boat towards the glowing orb—his paddle strokes inevitably moving the canoe slightly side-to-side as well as forward— the camera recorded the moon’s light as it shifted back and forth within the frame of the lens. The resulting image is no longer perfectly round but resembles a flat shining flying saucer floating over the water. Out of a desire to be elemental within the photographic medium, Charland has also made work with the most basic of photographic materials: silver gelatin paper and a candle. The photograms comprising the Penumbra series are a continuation of his exploration of camera-less photography.
Artist Nancy Graves (Vassar College class of 1961) is represented in this show by a series of ten lithographs of the moon’s surface and a black and white film entitled Reflections on the Moon. In the early 1970s, Graves extensively studied maps produced by NASA in preparation for the Apollo manned space missions to the moon. She worked closely with these sources in her production of works about the surfaces and appearance of the moon, using pointillist abstraction and topographical surveillance imagery as her guiding representational languages.
German photographer Thomas Ruff, who studied under Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, is represented in Touch the Sky by three chromogenic prints. These works are images captured by NASA and reimagined by Ruff using intensified colors and extreme close-up to evoke an intensified viewing experience, with compositions akin to abstraction and minimalism. The subject of these works, Saturn, was observed from 2004 to 2008 by the Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft. Through his manipulation of these images, Ruff successfully conjures the magnitude of the cosmological realm while constructing distance between the image and the concrete form it depicts.
Noted British astrophotographer David Malin has been working in the scientific imaging field for his entire professional life. Malin developed his own processing techniques for the widefield imaging of deep space objects during his career at the Australian Astronomical Observatory. Touch the Sky features some of his early work: lush, black-and-white platinum/palladium prints of space.
On the most contemporary end of the spectrum in this exhibition, artist Penelope Umbrico utilizes the limitless archive of photographic images on the internet. For her work in this exhibition, she turns to the photo-sharing website Flickr to explore how the full moon is photographed and shared. By using simple search terms such as “sunset” or “full moon,” Umbrico is able to collect an enormous archive of images and repurpose them in grids of borrowed images. “In this work,” says Lombino, “the individual subjective experience of witnessing and photographing the sun or moon is revealed as a collective practice, seen re-contextualized in its entirety, with new impact and effect.”
Also on view at Vassar College through June 12, 2016, is the Thompson Memorial Library exhibiton Seeing the Sun: Maria Mitchell's Observations, 1868-1888. Seeing the Sun features images of sunspots that were produced on glass plate negatives in Vassar’s observatory by Maria Mitchell, the first female astronomer and the first professor hired at the college.
Support for Touch the Sky is provided by the Evelyn Metzger Exhibition Fund.
Opening lecture and reception
Friday, April 29, 2016
5:30pm Lecture by Michael Benson, Taylor Hall Room 102
6:30 Reception, Art Center Atrium and Galleries
Michael Benson, writer, photographer, and filmmaker, focuses on the intersection of art and science in his work and is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on astronomical imagery. Over the last decade he has staged a series of large-scale exhibitions of planetary landscape photography, most recently Otherworlds at London’s Natural History Museum on view through May 2016. Benson has written for many publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Rolling Stone. He has authored several books published by Abrams including Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes, (2003), Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle (2009), Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, (Abrams 2012), and most recently, Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time, (2014). Visitors to the exhibition Touch the Sky will have the chance to see his dramatic color photography in the Landing Gallery.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
8:00pm, outside the Art Center, adjacent to the Chapel Lawn
A Trip to the Moon, a 1902 French silent film by George Méliès, follows a group of astronomers on a cannon-propelled capsule exploration of the moon. Watch it under the stars at the Art Center. Bring blankets and lawn chairs.
Friday, May 13, 2016
12:00pm, Art Center Temporary Exhibition Galleries
Mary-Kay Lombino, curator of the exhibition, will lead a gallery talk that provides both an overview of the show and an in-depth look at selected highlights.
Friday, May 13, 2016
1:30pm, Art Center Galleries
Children ages 3-5
A story time for 3-5 year olds in the galleries of the Art Center. We’ll read a story about the moon, look at a few of the artworks in the Touch the Sky: Art and Astronomy exhibition, and make a simple craft related to the astronomy theme.
Late Night at the Lehman Loeb: Observatory Nights
Thursday, June 2 & Thursday, June 23
The galleries are open late until 9:00pm each Thursday night. On June 2 & June 23, we invite visitors to come explore the Touch the Sky exhibition and then, weather permitting, go to Vassar College’s observatory to view the night sky. On those dates, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn should be visible. Call 845-437-5237 if the weather is in doubt.
About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with a permanent art collection and gallery, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections. The Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 20,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American 20th-century painters.
Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free and all galleries are wheelchair accessible. The Art Center is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10:00am–5:00pm; Thursday, 10:00am–9:00pm; and Sunday, 1:00–5:00pm. Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and the Vanderbilt mansion. For additional information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit fllac.vassar.edu.
Vassar College strives to make its events, performances, and facilities accessible to all. Individuals with disabilities requiring special accommodations must contact the Office of Campus Activities at least 48 hours in advance of an event, Mondays-Fridays, at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space/and or assistance may not be available. For detailed information about accessibility to specific campus facilities, search for “campus accessibility information” on the Vassar homepage (http://www.vassar.edu).
Directions to the Vassar campus, located at 124 Raymond Avenue in Poughkeepsie, NY, are available at www.vassar.edu/directions.Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.