New Exhibitions Open at the Taubman Museum of Art

The Taubman Museum of Art just opened four new exciting exhibitions.

“We refer to this new series of exhibitions as three plus one,” said David J. Brown, the museum’s director of art. “Three of the shows share intrinsic links — energy, the natural environment, and responsive architecture. They also have a time frame that spans more than one hundred years and offer a wide array of media and content.”

Peter Henry Emerson and American Naturalistic Photography – Through August 17, 2009
Peter Henry Emerson led the naturalistic photography movement in order to prove that photography could stand alone as a fine art. Born in Cuba to an American father and an English mother, Emerson relocated with his family to England as a teenager, where he studied science. At age 26, Emerson took his camera in hand and began to experiment with the medium by reacting to and against the various photographic styles that had grown up alongside the first uses of the camera.

Rather than capturing sentimental images in the form of portrait photography, or even mourning photography, Emerson focused on natural scenes reminiscent of plein air painters and the Barbizon School. He produced a photographic revolution by creating artistic photographs that mimic human eyesight, where the main subject is in focus and everything else fell off into moderate softness. In his groundbreaking book Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art, published in England in 1889, Emerson formulated naturalistic photography, introduced his theory of differential focusing, and instructed creative photographers to use nature as their standard.

Many younger photographers in the United States admired Emerson’s work and helped to spawn a period of naturalistic photography that lasted throughout the 1890s until the 1920s. Like Emerson, these photographers emphasized the beauty of “Mother Nature” and mankind’s harmony with her. They photographed the land in all of its forms and seasons, plus the devoted individuals who farmed it. American naturalistic photographers made simply composed, picturesque images, invariably printed in the subtle tonalities of platinum. Rather than creating utilitarian photographs related to detailed portraiture, mourning photographs, or contrived and sentimental scenes, Emerson and his peers concentrated on capturing nature and natural scenes set in rural environments. Naturalistic photography rejected much of modern, urban life, rather, as a heroic portrayal of nature and man’s relationship with nature dominated this approach to photography.

Naturalistic photography coincided with America’s “back to nature” movement at the turn of the twentieth century. As the nation witnessed industry and cities grow, a distinct backlash became evident in society as outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping, became popular, as the national park movement grew, and as publications devoted to outdoor sporting events became noteworthy periodicals. American naturalistic photographers provided images that were integral to this widespread cultural groundswell, often illustrating books of poetry and literature. Naturalistic photography not only helped to shape photography as a fine art, but it also reflected an important environmental movement that led to the creation of national parks and wildlife habitats.

Drawn largely from the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s permanent collection, the exhibition features seventy-five images from twenty photographers, including Edward Curtis, Alfred Stieglitz, Doris Ulmann, Henry Troth, and Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr.

The exhibition is organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Boxley Materials Company is the exhibition’s major sponsor and Appalachian Power Company and WSLS are the exhibition’s sponsors.

Sam Easterson: Eco-Sensing – Through August 17, 2009
Since 1998, Sam Easterson has attached custom-designed cameras onto the bodies of animals, ranging from millipedes and chickens to buffalos, moles and alligators. The resulting videos show the animal’s habitats from its perspective, allowing the viewer to go along for the ride.

“I am interested in seeing how animals move through the landscape, how they move through space,” said Easterson about his work.

Trained as both an artist and as a landscape architect, Easterson began his work as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, where he outfitted a flock of sheep with helmet-mounted video cameras to investigate the concept of terrain as a spatial experience. By utilizing remote imaging and sensing technologies to accumulate data about animals and their habitats, Easterson’s Eco-Sensing Incorporated assists wildlife biologists and other researchers who are looking for innovative ways to gather or envision environmental information. The videos he has created enable the viewer to understand how little is truly known about animals and the surrounding landscape, and these strange, unfamiliar perspectives help to underscore the viewers alienation from the land we share with creatures large and small.

Easterson’s work has been described by Douglas Fogle, curator and deputy director of exhibitions and public programs at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, as part of an American aesthetic tradition that links the perceiver and perspective, the individual to the landscape. Fogle comments that “In visual arts in the 19th century, and even in the 18th century, painting was documenting the landscape from a particular point of view. Sam is interested in looking and in the process of looking. You’re never going to be able to approximate an animal’s vision completely, but I think that in many cases he’s attempting to get us to that point of view which takes you outside of yourself as a viewer.”

The Taubman Museum of Art will present more than thirty-five short videos on five flat screen monitors and will include a live website where visitors can watch additional videos of various animals exploring their habitats using various remote sensing cameras. In comparison to the museum’s exhibition of Peter Henry Emerson and Naturalistic Photography, the viewer begins to sense how these animals navigate through their landscape, capturing views that Emerson could never have seen, using the technology of his time period.

“Through his unique films, we slowly begin to realize just how foreign the land is to us—even areas that we think we know well,” said Brown.

Easterson grew up in Hartford, Connecticut in proximity to woods and wetlands where he developed a fascination with animals and their surrounding habitats. He studied fine art at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York, and he earned a M.S. in Landscape Architecture from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Easterson’s work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the International Center of Photography in New York City, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams. Easterson also has appeared as a guest on The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS, Headline News on CNN, 24 Frames News on the Sundance Channel, and The Animal Planet Report on Animal Planet.

Taught by Leah Gardner from the O. Winston Link Museum, the Pleasing Pinhole Camera Workshop on June 16 and 17 will teach children ages 8-10 to make their own pinhole cameras to take a variety of photographs. The cost is $80 for museum members and $90 for non-members. To register, call the museum’s ticket hotline at (540) 204-4122.

On August 8, the museum will host Family Day: Wild and Untamed featuring Mill Mountain Zoo’s educational animals, musical entertainment by Zev Haber, puppet shows by Barefoot Puppets, and an art-making project to take home. All activities are free of charge and admission to the museum’s galleries is half-price from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Eclipsis/LumenHaus – Through August 17, 2009

The museum’s MediaLab will showcase Virginia Tech’s Solar Decathlon Team’s prototype wall system for the team’s entry in the premiere showcase for solar powered home technology. As a Solar Decathlon competitor for the third time since 2002, the team, which consists of forty faculty and students from Virginia Tech’s Department of Architecture and Design, has created LumenHaus, which features computer controlled systems that use an iPhone as the interface. The team will showcase their unique louvering system Eclipsis, designed to react to nuances of the changing light, making the house more responsive to the environment and the individual. The exhibition also will include a video on the unique aspects of LumenHaus.

For three weeks in October of 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy will host the Solar Decathlon, an international biennial competition on the mall in Washington, D.C. in which twenty teams of college and university students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The Solar Decathlon also provides the opportunity for the public to observe the powerful combination of solar energy, energy efficiency, and the best in home design. The 2009 Solar Decathlon is the fourth competition since 2002. During each of the past Solar Decathlons, more than 100,000 visitors flocked to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to visit the “solar village.”

Through the exhibition, the Virginia Tech Solar Decathlon Team will further its mission to inform and educate the public about issues of energy (particularly solar) while enhancing student education through a design-build process of innovative research and testing through application.

Reverences: Terri Dowell-Dennis and Donna Polseno – Through August 25, 2009
The museum continues to celebrate the arts and culture of our region by presenting selections of the recent work of two accomplished artists, Terri Dowell-Dennis and Donna Polseno, who share affinities for and expand the boundaries of time honored traditions.

“These two artists were brought together for this exhibition without knowing about each other, yet upon meeting, they felt a kindred spirit,” said Brown. “Both tackle forms that celebrate the history of the culture of the wider region yet speak more fully to the universal self, and they accomplish this in very different ways.”

Terri Dowell-Dennis, based in North Carolina, continues to mine a variety of media to explore Southern and Appalachian crafts, traditional women’s roles, and various compelling aspects of religious texts and belief systems from a range of cultures. The exhibition showcases two of Dowell-Dennis’ most recent series, including a mixed media installation exploring the Appalachian foot washing ceremony and The Genesis Project, a series of works that explore questions and insights about this ancient book of beginnings.

“My recent works are part of an investigation of my Appalachian heritage, its lore and values – focusing on the lives of women and the conflation of pagan or nature-based notions with traditional Christian beliefs,” said artist Terri Dowell-Dennis.

Donna Polseno, based in Floyd, Virginia, has long pursued the intersection of ancient forms, the body as vessel, and the qualities and possibilities of her material of choice, clay – complete with all of its inherent histories. Many of Polseno’s recent sculptural female forms merge torso with vessel with base, each component as important as the other as if dependent upon one another, embracing each other in a delicate balance.

In Donna sull’orlo, a work Polseno created for an exhibition in Certaldo, Italy in 2008, a full female form, literally translated, sits on the edge of a stone ledge base. The figure is carrying a jug or vessel on her head, which she balances while balancing on the edge of the base with her legs crossed. An active yoga practioner, Polseno often incorporates elements of her practice into her sculpture. These delicate forms can be seen both as self referential and archetypal and evoke the timelessness of weathered statuary, frozen in the act of nurturing, giving or sharing, traits seemingly more female in nature. Remarkably, the results of her creative efforts appear as though they have always existed in time, brought back to life or rediscovered by the artist’s hands.

“We are thrilled to open these four exhibitions to our viewing audience,” said Brown. “They are prime examples of the museum’s mission to link the old with the new, collaborate with partners, and showcase important regional artists working today, within driving distance.”

Taubman Museum of Art
110 Salem Avenue SE, Roanoke, VA 24011

Tuesday-Wednesday, Friday-Saturday: 10am – 5pm
Thursday: 10am – 7pm
Sunday: Noon – 5pm