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By Elin Spring
It is a rare and beautiful thing to find a treasure like the Addison Gallery of American Art. Part of the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, the Addison may have started as a gallery, but it is every bit a small museum now, housed in a prominent building and boasting a rich photographic archive. Allison Kemmerer, Mead Curator of Photography and Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, has spent a busy summer planning and installing the five exhibits on view this fall, all of which include photography to varying degrees. We’ll be interviewing Ms. Kemmerer in a Curator’s Viewpoint feature later this month, as well as reviewing a few of the Addison’s exceptional exhibits, starting today with The Body: Concealing and Revealing.
Perhaps the most marvelous facet of art is that it makes you look at things differently, triggering visual and personal revelations. In The Body: Concealing and Revealing, the Addison Gallery has mined its archives to present the human body in ways we don’t usually see or think about it: cropped, abstracted, disguised, obscured, and even erased. These visual experiments plant seeds of mystery. They encourage us to expand on the available information, instigating new ways of thinking about identity and all of the psycho-social baggage that goes with it.
Explorations of segments of the body lead to very different interpretations: Edward Weston’s six sensual studies of Charis Wilson explore the body as an abstract, whereas Arno Minkkinen considers the body as a form of natural landscape, and Leon Levinstein offers it as a type of social documentary.
Obscuring, masquerading or even absenting the body evoke entire philosophies about selfhood: Cindy Sherman’s disguises internalize specific personalities, whereas Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s masks “serve as non-personalizing a person” (his words). Francesca Woodman’s bisected, faceless portraits of herself in a dilapidated house read like suffocating traps, whereas Bill Jacobson’s amorphous bending body signals a gentle surrender to our human frailties.
Curator Allison Kemmerer has made an incisive and generous selection, traversing the emotional spectrum from playful to unsettling. And I like the way she riffed on the exhibit’s main theme by coordinating with Curatorial Fellow Tessa Hite – who lined the main hallway leading to the exhibit with many of Eadweard Muybridge’s “Studies of Human and Animal Locomotion”- then placing Kathy Grove’s body-less sendup in the actual show. With additional exhibit photographs from photographers like Imogen Cunningham, Paul Coplans, Lisette Model, Deborah Turbeville, Barbara Crane and Ralph Gibson, The Body: Concealing and Revealing is a trove of discoveries.
For more information about The Body: Concealing and Revealing and other current Addison Gallery exhibits, go to: https://addison.andover.edu/Exhibitions/TheBody/Pages/default.aspx#Title1
Feature image: “House #4, 1976” (Detail) by Francesca Woodman (courtesy of the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA).