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Sue Bush
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First Major Spencer Finch Exhibition At MASS MoCA

12:01AM / Thursday, May 10, 2007

Spencer Finch: What Time Is It on the Sun? opens May 26 at MASS MoCA.
North Adams – Spencer Finch wants us to consider the question: Is it possible to see yourself seeing?

As he explains: "There is always a paradox inherent in vision, an impossible desire to see yourself seeing. A lot of my work probes this tension; to want to see, but not being able to."

He explores that challenge and the mechanics and mysteries of perception in a landmark exhibition which opens May 26 at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) including over 40 works – comprising over 160 pastels, 62 photographs, 6 major sculptural installations, plus a 30-foot long drawing – made over the last 14 years.

Spencer Finch: What Time Is It on the Sun? will include four major new works, two of which are site-specific installations created for MASS MoCA. The exhibition will run through Spring 2008.

Finch blends a scientific method and a poetic sensibility to explore the nature of color, light, memory, and perception. Operating precariously in the gap between the objectivity of scientific observation and the subjectivity of creative expression, he attempts to depict the most elusive of subjects and fleeting experiences ­ sunlight, wind, candlelight, color, even the scent of Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal ­ using a range of media including pastel, watercolor, photography, glass tile, video, sculpture, and light installation as well as unexpected materials ranging from Tang to invisible ink.

The paradoxical exhibition title refers to Finch’s interest in limits of logic and perception as well as the importance of light in his work. According to Finch, "Ultimately the sun is always the impossible goal of my work – always the goal, always absent."

New Commissions

In a gallery facing the museum’s entrance courtyard, Finch will create a luminous wall of stained glass, one of two site-specific works created for MASS MoCA. In this yet-to-be-titled installation, the colored glass panes, a mix of yellow, red, green, and gray, will transform the sun’s light into the intimate glow of a candle's flame.

In a different north-facing gallery, Finch will use colored lighting gels to filter the local sunlight to match the light he has measured daily in his Brooklyn studio since January 1, 2007.

Like a wall calendar each window pane will correspond to a particular day. The gels will cover just a portion of each pane, allowing visitors to experience the light of two different places and times simultaneously.

New Work

In addition to the site-specific installation, new work in the show includes West (Sunset in my motel room, Monument Valley, February 26, 2007, 5:36 – 6:06 pm), (2007). The piece recreates the waning light of sunset with the light projected from nine video monitors. The monitors play a selection of stills from John Ford’s 1956 epic Western "The Searchers" which change once a minute over a 30-minute period mimicking the color and intensity of the fading twilight Finch precisely measured with a colorimeter in his motel room in the Monument Valley desert.

Two hours, Two minutes, Two seconds (Wind on Walden Pond, March 12, 2007) (2002) uses a series of programmed industrial fans to reproduce the changing wind blowing across the shores of the pond immortalized by Henry David Thoreau as measured by Finch at the site with an anemometer. This piece complements his installation Sunlight in an Empty Room (Passing Cloud for Emily Dickinson, Amherst, MA, August 28, 2004) (2004), an homage to another New England-based luminary. These works will be shown alongside Composition in Red and Green (2000), a nod to Isaac Newton and his epiphany.

Other Works in Exhibition

Finch will reconfigure for MASS MoCA’s space Night Sky (Over the Painted Desert, Arizona, January 11, 2004) (2004), an installation that attracted much popular and critical attention at the 2004 Whitney Biennial.

Hung from the ceiling, the light work hovers overhead, the atom-like bulbs glowing like stars. To create the work, Finch painted the Arizona night sky, then analyzed the chemical make-up of the mix of pigments and depicted the molecular structure of the chemicals in the mix through these suspended light bulbs.

For 42 Minutes (After Kawabata) (2004), the artist shot seven photographs of the view outside the window of a family home in nearby Vermont. Taken seven minutes apart in the waning light of dusk, the photographs capture the magical moments during which the window transforms from a transparent pane with a view to the exterior to a mirror reflecting the interior of the house.

In other works he replicates the color of the sky at a particular place and time with unconventional materials that refer to the shared associations attached to the site. For example in Sky (Over Roswell, NM, 5/5/00, dusk) (2000), Finch used rhinestones on aluminum panel to match the exact blue of the sky in a location known for an alleged UFO crash and other extraterrestrial sightings. In Sky (Over Coney Island, November 26th, 2004, 12:47pm. Southwest view over the Cyclone) (2004) he studied the particular hue of a patch of sky above the beach at Coney Island mid-day in winter, depicting it in carefully selected purple and blue balloons.

The experience of color, assumed to be immutable and understood by all but really impossible to communicate, lies at the heart of many of Finch’s works. 102 Colors from My Dreams (2002) comprises 102 watercolors depicting the colors of the artist’s dreams. Between November 2000 and May 2002, Finch kept a dream diary at his bedside, in which he would record as best he could remember the colors from his dreams. Attempting to recreate the most distinctive hues from memory, Finch mixed various inks until he found the tones that matched most faithfully what he had recorded. He then poured drops of the colored ink on to square sheets of paper and then folded each sheet, which when opened again revealed a series of abstract Rorschach-like blots, an appropriate form for expressing the subconscious. Interior of Room 4, Hotel de la Cathedrale, Rouen, May 18 -22, 1996, morning effect, noon effect, evening effect (1995) is an homage to Claude Monet’s paintings of the changing light on Rouen’s cathedral. Down the street from the cathedral Monet memorialized, Finch charted the fleeting colors of the objects in his hotel room as the light effects morphed over the course of a day.

Other works on view illustrate Finch’s interest in blindness and perceptual distortion. Two mosaics from 1998, which at first appear abstract, are actually based on photographs that depict white-out conditions on some of the world’s highest peaks (Mount Everest, K2). Peripheral Error (after Moritake) (2004) is a series of watercolors which depict distorted images of butterflies as seen in the artist’s peripheral vision. One entire gallery will be devoted to the artist’s nuanced studies of darkness while another will feature a selection of “white” or “invisible” drawings which document nearly imperceptible phenomena, including melting snowflakes and the sun’s oxidizing effects on paper.

MASS MoCA’s Prints and Drawings gallery will be devoted to Finch’s substantial early work Trying to Remember the Color of Jackie Kennedy’s Pillbox Hat (1994.) The 100 different pink drawings that make up the installation represent Finch’s attempt to remember a detail from one of the most reproduced and remembered events in American history. The work is dogged in its pursuit of accuracy while underscoring the futility of the task. The work’s exhibition at MASS MoCA will be one of only a handful of times it has been shown in its entirety since 1994.

The performance-based work Self-Portrait as Crazy Horse, first created in 1993, will be performed for the sixth time for the MASS MoCA exhibition. Transforming the gallery into camera and dark room, Finch prepares a gallery wall with light-sensitive chemicals used to create a cyanotype. Positioning himself between the wall and a window, the artist stands motionless between dawn and dusk while light pours over him. While the rest of the wall turns green, then blue in a fixative, the area in shadow remains a ghostly white. Referencing the American Indian’s fear of photography, the work hints at Finch’s own skepticism of the medium.

Exhibition Opening

MASS MoCA members and the public are invited to the opening party for Spencer Finch: What Time Is It on the Sun? The reception will take place on Saturday, May 26, 6 p.m. - 8 p.m..

Members are admitted free; there is a $6 admission charge for non-members. Wine for MASS MoCA receptions is provided by Barefoot Wine.

The weekend marks the opening of the summer season at MASS MoCA and the beginning of the center’s eighth year. An opening concert featuring Freedy Johnston recreating his accomplished second album Can You Fly?, as well as a performance by Brian Dewan & Vampire Weekend, will kick off the performing arts season on Sunday, May 27, at 8 p.m.

About Spencer Finch

Finch was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1962. He received a degree in comparative literature from Hamilton College and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1989. The artist has had solo exhibitions at ArtPace, San Antonio; Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, Germany; and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford. His work has also been presented at the Barbican Centre Art Gallery in London; the Jewish Museum, New York; Museum für Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe, Germany; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others. Finch’s work is in the collections of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am am Main; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York among others. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Monograph to be published

A monograph on the artist will be published in conjunction with the exhibition. The fully illustrated, 192-page publication will feature three essays and an extensive plate section highlighting over 30 selected works with both images and text.

Authors include exhibition curator Susan Cross as well as Daniel Birnbaum and Suzanne Hudson. An exhibition history and bibliography will also be included. The hardcover catalogue, which features a unique slipcase and three artist projects, will be distributed by D.A.P.

Exhibition Funding

Spencer Finch: What Time Is It on the Sun? is supported in part by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Massachusetts Cultural Council; the Mohawk Trail Association; the Artists’ Resource Trust, a fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation; and LEE Filters.

MASS MoCA

MASS MoCA’s galleries are open from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., closed Tuesdays. (10 a.m. – 6 p.m. every day June 30 through September 4, 2007). Admission is $12.50 for adults, $9 for students, $5 for children 6 -16 and free for children 5 and under.

Members are admitted free at all times. More information on MASS MoCA and the exhibition is available at www.massmoca.org or by calling 413. 662. 2111.

MASS MoCA, the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the United States, is located off Marshall Street in North Adams on a 13-acre campus of renovated 19th-century factory buildings.
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