September 13 - October 25, 2014
Gallery Luisotti is pleased to announce an exhibition of new photographs from Catherine Wagner, Rome Works. Featuring photographs taken in major collections across Rome, and first shown at the American Academy in Rome where she received the Rome Prize for 2013/14, this exhibition will be the first US viewing of the series. Rome Works captures both ancient and renaissance-era sculpture with a focus on the contexts in which these works are displayed and conserved. In this way, Rome Works reveals the layers of time present when exhibiting artworks; Wagner’s camera finds the past, the sculpture itself, colliding with the present, the public display. Wagner continues a long held interest in exploring, and documenting, archives of visual culture.
Whether we look at her photographs of the construction of San Francisco’s Moscone Center in 1979-81, her work on museum archives in Museum Pieces from 1999, or the Re-Classifying History project documenting pieces in the De Young Museum collection, Catherine Wagner’s art has a long held interest in the layers of history made public. What distinguishes Wagner’s Rome Works from her prior interest in museum objects and archives in particular is a renewed focus on context. Where earlier works cast objects against a black background, such as those from Reparations (2010), in Rome Works we come to view a number of objects in situ. Consider, for example, Boy with Four Shadows. The antique, fragmentary sculpture is photographed on its pale-green pedestal against slightly darker green walls. As much as we become aware of the aged white marble of the sculpture itself, Wagner’s photograph plays in the several shadows the artwork casts upon the wall. Doing so, Wagner draws our eye to the method of display. As vibrant as the sculpture’s presentation seems to be, there is very little historical information; no didactic or identifying labels to pin the sculpture to history, and no accompanying sculptures to give a sense of its stylistic moment. Wagner’s photograph frees the sculpture from a historical narrative while bringing the display of its aesthetic and conceptual attributes present.
Wagner refers to her disruption of historical narratives with display methods as “a collision in time.” Her photographs find sculpture in the midst of transformation, as well as under conservation. We find fragments of figurative sculpture being put back together or a model of an architectural element (Inverted Capital) that have long lost their original function and only here reveal their subtle beauty. In Angel Encased (Bernini), Wagner captures the artist’s work from behind. Bernini, known for his focus on the entire figure, backside as much as front, and his flair for drama and emotion, is found by Wagner to be shrouded by a cold, transparent display. Wagner’s photograph verges on a Francis Bacon painting here, not in its abstraction, but in the barren psychology of the space, the marker of our time, and the manner by which we seek to understand the past.