Press Release

Exhibition Explores The Paradox of Vision in Contemporary Art in March 2018

Brunswick, Maine
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Works by more than 20 artists, including Terry Adkins, Sophie Calle, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Ann Hamilton, Glenn Ligon, Carmen Papalia, and Lorna Simpson explore the implications of blindness and invisibility

Brunswick, Maine, February 1, 2018 — Opening on March 1, 2018, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art will present Second Sight: the Paradox of Vision in Contemporary Art, an exhibition that examines themes of the nonvisual in contemporary American art. Examining blindness as a physiological and cultural construct, the exhibition encourages museumgoers to consider the primacy of visual experience, and challenge conventions of visual representation, which has contributed to the marginalization of groups throughout American history. Featuring over 35 sculptural, sound, language-based, conceptual, and immersive artworks by artists who include Terry Adkins, William Anastasi, Sophie Calle, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Joseph Grigely, Ann Hamilton, Glenn Ligon, and Lorna Simpson,  Second Sight explores the notion of sight, representation, and ability as social concepts.

The Museum will also host a series of exhibition-related public programs, including an eyes-closed tour of the Bowdoin College quad led by internationally known social practice artist Carmen Papalia, in addition to artist talks, scholarly lectures, and musical performances. 

Second Sight challenges us to consider what can be grasped when we think beyond what lies in plain sight, providing a forum for conversations about difference and new scholarship in the politics of race, class, and ability in contemporary art,” said Bowdoin College Museum of Art Co-Director Anne Collins Goodyear. “Building on her own research, as well as insights from outside scholars and Bowdoin’s own students, faculty, and staff, Second Sight curator Ellen Y. Tani, the current Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow, prompts us to question the art world’s all-too-frequent privileging of visual perception, asking visitors to question, both literally and figuratively, what, how, and why we see,” continued Bowdoin College Museum of Art Co-Director Frank Goodyear. “This type of questioning is of critical importance, especially on college campuses today, to prompt viewers to explore and unpack implicit biases in contemporary visual culture.”

“The artworks in Second Sight invoke the nonvisual through numerous techniques, which may include the process of their creation, their activation of tactile or sonic experience, or their use of language rather than image to convey information,” noted Tani. “Through their pieces, the artists featured in this exhibition investigate alternative frameworks for perception, often occupying its margins—responding to conditions of invisibility as well as what cannot be represented—through radical experimentation.”

Second Sight will include a range of works by contemporary artists that point to ways of knowing beyond visual observation and consider the invisible societal, political, and cultural forces that govern our own frameworks of experience. The BCMA will pair highlights from its own collection alongside loans from artists’ studios and estates, galleries, foundations, and institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Baltimore Museum of Art. Highlights from the exhibition include:

• Multidisciplinary artist Terry Adkins’s sound sculpture Off Minor (2004), from his recital Black Beethoven: Recital in Nine Dominions, which explores speculation about Beethoven’s purported mixed-race heritage.

• Selections from French conceptual artist Sophie Calle’s series Les Aveugles (The Blind) (1986), which presents photo- and text-based installations based on the artist’s interviews with a dozen non-sighted individuals.

• “Untitled” (Water) (1995) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, an interactive work made up of strands of aquamarine plastic beads that hang from a metal rod spanning a passageway.

• A new site-specific installation by social practice artist and disability activist Carmen Papalia, premiering at the BCMA, which will consist of performance documentation such as text-based banners, photographs, and other ephemera reflecting the artist’s collaboration with members of the campus community on the subject of nonvisual learning.

Lorna Simpson’s Cloudscape (2004), a single-shot video that features Terry Adkins vanishing behind a curtain of fog, balancing his visual disappearance with the continued sound of his whistling voice.

• Two site-specific wall drawings by Tony Lewis, to be executed with the assistance of Bowdoin students. In one drawing, based on Life’s Little Instruction Book, and another, based on the stenographic system of Gregg shorthand, Lewis addresses the forms and failures of communication.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue edited by curator Ellen Y. Tani and will serve as a significant contribution to the study of contemporary art, race theory, and disability studies, featuring contributions from Amanda Cachia, Joseph Grigely, Shaun Leonardo, Tony Lewis, Nyeema Morgan, and Gala Porras-Kim.

The BCMA is committed to designing programs, materials, and tours to make all exhibitions accessible to visitors of all abilities in accordance with best practices guidelines for museum accessibility.

Throughout the run of Second Sight, the Museum will host a series of exhibition-related public programs, with events ranging from special exhibition tours and artist talks to workshops and musical performances. Highlights include:

• Beckwith Artist-in-Residence George Lopez performs an evening of music associated with Second Sight on March 8. 

Second Sight artist Shaun Leonardo (Bowdoin ’01) will lead a performance-based interactive lecture on April 6 on the subject of “testimony.”

• April 10 film screening of Notes on Blindness (2016), a documentary film based on the life of writer and theologian John M. Hull, who recorded his experience of vision loss on audio diaries. The film is followed by a discussion with Jason Middleton, visiting associate professor of cinema studies, and exhibition curator, Ellen Y. Tani, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow.

Second Sight Artist Nyeema Morgan discusses her work included in the exhibition and the connection between drawing, physicality, and the unseen on April 13.

Carmen Papalia, internationally known social practice artist, leads a “Blind Field Shuttle Walk,” an eyes-closed tour of the Bowdoin College quad, offering participants new perspectives on the accessibility of our shared spaces on May 4. 

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Robert Morris, Blind Time III no. 2, 1977

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