“A Generous Medium”: Worth More Than a Thousand Words

Photo: Nikki A. Greene

A Generous Medium: Photography at Wellesley 1972-2012 at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College will enthrall photography enthusiasts, collectors, scholars, and curators alike. As a contributor to the exhibition catalogue, admittedly, I am biased. For me, the most exciting part of the exhibition as a contributing writer included the excitement of seeing all the other photographs together on display. The curators arranged the works, quasi-19th century salon-style, by order of accession date, which provides a chronology of tastes of sorts. Those tastes were shaped by the Davis Museum–the donors, the museum directors, or past and present faculty members available to offer expertise–at any given moment over the last four decades. I wrote on two photographs included in the show: Ellen Gallagher’s Abu Simbel (2005-06) and Radcliffe Bailey’s Echo (2011). Both images were acquired by the Davis Museum in 2011 under the leadership of the Davis’ current director, the Ruth Gordon Shapiro ’37 DirectorLisa Fischman.

A Generous Medium: Photography at Wellesley 1972-2012 – view from ground floor balcony. Photograph: Nikki A. Greene

You see, we weren’t assigned the works. Each of the 60 writers, which included alumnae, donors, museum directors, past and present faculty members, chose one or multiple photographs about which to write critically or to reflect thoughtfully. Subject matter, style, and technique vary, of course. Thus, the exhibition reflects not only the importance of photography in the Davis Museum over the last forty years, but also the personal thoughts, professional tastes, and research interests of the contributors. Portions of their texts hang alongside each photograph. In fact, the interplay of text with the images become the most integral and fascinating experience of the show. I hope as many visitors as possible drop in to see this innovative show. Eugène Atget, Andy Warhol, Dawoud Bey, and Cindy Sherman, among many notable others, reside in the same room. THAT should be motivation enough to get to the Davis by December 16. Truly, with so much to see–and read–one would be hard pressed to find a comparable photography show as visually and intellectually stimulating. Here’s the most recent review from the Boston Globe (9/24/12): “The Davis Showcases 40 Years of Photography.”

At the very least, you’ll want to see my pick, Gallagher’s Abu Simbel and her version of funk masters Sun Ra and George Clinton awaiting a blue, fur-lined spaceship. Funky indeed!

Ellen Gallagher, “Abu Simbel” (2005-06) ~ acquired in 2011

Outline of Radcliffe Bailey’s “Echo” as part of “A Generous Medium” in lieu of the permanently installed piece on the second floor. Photo: Nikki A. Greene

My daughter examining Bailey’s “Echo” on the second floor of the Davis…intensely (March 2011). Photo: Nikki A. Greene

Artist & Art Historian Margaret Rose Vendreyes and the imitable Lorraine O’Grady on opening night of “A Generous Medium.” Margaret wrote for show and Ms. O’Grady (Wellesley alumna) has a piece in the show. Photo: Nikki A. Greene

O’Grady (in center w/blue boots) addresses students after returning to campus on November 13, commemorating her donation of her archives to Wellesley College.

 

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