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Presented at a time when the compulsion to digitally document and share human activity has increased exponentially, this exhibition features works from deCordova’s permanent collection that prefigure and inform current trends in social photography, as well as recent work by contemporary artists who utilize smartphones and social media to record the world around them. The Social Medium features work spanning from the mid-twentieth century to the present, and includes multiple photographic genres such as social documentary, street, society/celebrity, and portrait photography.
The Social Medium was largely inspired by a recent gift of one of Andy Warhol’s Little Red Books, which contains a set of color Polaroids. With his camera, Warhol documented the events of his life—from glamorous celebrity parties to mundane occurrences. The arrival of these photographs, which record Warhol’s artistic and social milieu (or environment), created an opportunity to examine the work of other artists who also photograph social experience.
Together, the work in this exhibition speaks to the continued relevance of the photographic medium’s singular power to capture and preserve personal and societal histories, and provides a selective history of the camera’s role as an extension of memory and a tool that is at once a witness to and participant in human social activity.
This exhibition features the work of Jules Aarons, Elsa Dorfman, Larry Fink, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Lotte Jacobi, Rodger Kingston, Phillip Maisel, Nicholas Nixon, Tod Papageorge, Bill Ravanesi, Eugene Richards, Michal Ronnen Safdie, Greg Schmigel, Neal Slavin, and Andy Warhol. The Social Medium has been generously funded by an anonymous donor.
Walden, revisited features works by contemporary artists inspired by Walden–the pond; the book published in 1854 by natural history philosopher, social critic, and early environmentalist Henry David Thoreau; and the connection and disconnection between the two. In 1845, Thoreau (1817–1862) embarked on a now-legendary two-year, two-month, and two-day venture into the Concord woods to write and live “Spartan-like.” He immortalized his experiment in Walden; or Life in the Woods, which extols the virtues of a life simplified to “only the essential facts,” spent in a self-built, one-room cabin near the shores of Walden Pond.
Today, 160 years after its first publication, Walden is firmly ensconced in the canon of great American literature. It remains the foundational text for American nature writing, and its message of living simply, economically, and intentionally has resonated throughout subsequent generations. In the wake of the Great Recession and the growing urgency of climate change, Walden emerges again as a home-grown American handbook dedicated to self-reliance and a life lived with, not against, nature.
These same topics loom large as contemporary artists rethink their relationship to society, the environment, and the role of art within culture. Walden, revisited brings fifteen artists to deCordova, the pond’s neighbor, to contemplate and review the less explored legacies of this great American memoir through and in contemporary art practices.
Walden, revisited features sculpture, installation, performance, painting, drawing, and video, alongside new commissions. Artists include James Benning, David Brooks, William Cordova, Spencer Finch, Futurefarmers, William Lamson, Ana María Gómez López and Pamela Jordan, Jane D. Marsching, Michael Mercil, Oscar Palacio, Gina Siepel, Lisa Sigal, Jennifer Sullivan, Deb Todd Wheeler, and Hilary Wilder.
Want more Walden?
Visit our collaborators: Walden Pond State Reservation, Concord Museum, Concord Free Public Library, Lincoln Conservation Trails, The Thoreau Society Shop at Walden Pond, and The Walden Woods Project.
This exhibition has been supported in part by the generosity of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Nathaniel Saltonstall Arts Fund, and the Artist's Resource Trust. Additional support for this exhibition has been provided in part by an anonymous donor and Joyce Linde. Funding for Walden, revisited programming has been partially provided by the Ogden Codman Trust.
Tim de Christopher’s The Fruit of Our Labors is an evolving work that explores the life and labors of one man. Synthesizing the traditional practice of stone carving with more contemporary modes of sculpture making, de Christopher’s most recent version of this installation at deCordova is a large, timber-framed structure that houses artist’s stone sculptures as well as weathered found objects.
Evocative of an ancient Greek temple, the structure acts as a monument; its items metaphorically pay tribute to a life lived, representing ideas that are both deeply personal and universally experienced. De Christopher connects these elements visually through a system of lines in space—ropes strung through pulleys, wood beams and shelving, and metal rods—affirming the interrelatedness of all things. Through his composition of accumulated elements, the artist comments on the manner in which we collect things throughout our lives, be they physical objects or intangible memories, prompting questions about what we choose to keep and what we leave behind.
The Fruit of Our Labors was previously installed at the Oxbow Gallery, in Northampton, MA in December of 2010.
This exhibition has been generously funded by an anonymous donor.
This ambitious survey exhibition of the work of the internationally renowned Scottish artist, poet, and garden designer Ian Hamilton Finlay showcases over 200 objects including sculptures, prints, and books. The show is the first museum exhibition of the artist’s work in the United States since his show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1992; the exhibition is also the first of the artist’s work in the United States since his death in 2006. In addition to filling deCordova’s Linde and Foster Galleries, the exhibition contains a number of works installed outdoors in the Sculpture Park.
After founding Wild Hawthorn Press in 1961 and publishing hundreds of artists’ books, Finlay rose to prominence as one of Great Britain’s foremost experimental literary artists making concrete poetry, a practice which wed language with sculptural form. In 1966, he and his wife Sue Finlay built Little Sparta, a garden in Dunsyre, Scotland, which became the site for the ultimate realization of his aesthetic program. Finlay treated Little Sparta as a site for engaging with cultural inquiry and criticism rather than as a sanctuary or more traditional pastoral setting; he literally placed language into the landscape in monumental form, encouraging a discourse on the reconciliation between nature and modern society.
Finlay freely mined human history to source imagery for his work. He believed that most positive symbols in Western culture had been drained of their meaning through consumerist assimilation and desensitization, and so employed universally powerful symbols of violence and authority such as machine guns, tanks, and guillotines in his work. Finlay’s merger of beauty, violence, and the sacred spoke to his belief in the disintegration of contemporary society’s cultural ideals. When encountered in juxtaposition to emblems of nature and classical idealism, Finlay’s epigrams provoke contemplation of society’s need for a reclamation of civic and aesthetic values.
Several works demonstrating Finlay’s signature fusion of classical beauty and violence are on view in deCordova’s exhibition. Apollo/Saint Just after Bernini (1985-2003) is a suite of bronze sculptures of the youthful Olympian deity, each equipped–upon closer inspection–with modern weapons such as hand grenades and submachine guns, rather than flutes or harps. Similarly, Finlay’s Aphrodite de la Terreur (Aphrodite of the Terror) (1987) is a plaster sculpture of the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality–this time adorned with a modest red necklace, a chilling reference to the red string worn around the necks of mourning relatives of the beheaded during the French Revolution.
Finlay’s work often commands attention through his simple visual and verbal plays on language: Wildflower Vase (1985) is an ephemeral bouquet in a classical white vase labeled with the text "Wildflower: A Mean Term between Revolution and Virtue." Finlay’s text causes the work’s immediate beauty and representation of nature to become a prompt for the contemplation of communal mindfulness. In a comparable gesture, Finlay’s Panzer Leader (1976) is a cast tortoise whose shell is embossed with the word Panzer, a German word that can be translated as tank, armor, or turtle shell. Although Panzer Leader appears to be an unassuming, tank-like reptile at first glance, Finlay’s application of language quickly renders it a more sinister evocation of the thunderous crush of German tanks during World War II.
Finlay’s challenging engagement with landscape and history does not make allowance for a passive viewing experience. The artist’s work encourages viewers to question the role of the detached consumer and to utilize the tools of awareness that Finlay presents in his work in order to consider their responsibility in articulating the future of society.
Funding for this exhibition has been provided by an anonymous donor and Joyce Linde.