New Addison Exhibit Explores the Real and the Imagined

Clutching a glass in his hands and tilting his head slightly to the right, a man sits alone on the bed of a drably decorated room in William Eggleston’s 1978 photograph “Untitled (man on bed).” The man’s defeated expression, coupled with his simple surroundings, creates a somber mood which is maintained throughout the exhibit “Exterior Spaces, Interior Places.”

“Untitled (man on bed)” is one of many works of art currently on display in “Exterior Spaces, Interior Places,” a new fall exhibition at the Addison Gallery of American Art. Curated by Susan Faxon, Associate Director and Curator at the Addison, the exhibit features both renowned pieces and rarely-seen gems from the Addison’s permanent collection that show literal or conceptual representations of interior and exterior settings.

“The ‘Exterior Spaces, Interior Places’ exhibition explores ideas about exteriors and interiors in a variety of ways, from literal depictions of landscapes and cityscapes to contemplative reflections of quiet inside moments to a conceptual look at interior as within the mind of an artist,” said Jamie Kaplowitz, Education Associate and Museum Learning Specialist at the Addison.

According to Faxon, inspiration for the exhibit came from “Break on through the other side,” a recently acquired oil painting by Sam Messer that depicts an outdoor space on its left side and an indoor space on its right side.

“I began to pose the idea that maybe there was this way to organize the collection in terms of representational and the actual, an actual recording of what is seen versus the interior ruminations and interests of the artist, sort of the dichotomy of the real and the imagined. And from there, I began to think of taking the paintings that are such important paintings for us and dividing them into views of exterior locations, outside, landscapes and interior spaces,” said Faxon.

Occupying almost an entire wall in the exhibit, “Break on through the other side” depicts a man’s backside as he moves toward a shining white fence. On the left of the man is an outdoor space, occupied with a unique blend of objects, including a toilet with flowers growing out of it, a yellow armchair and a wall covered with ivy. This bright scene is in opposition with the painting’s right side, which depicts a chaotic interior space. The painting’s left side is full of vibrant blues, yellows and greens, while black, white and purple dominate the painting’s right side. The work is full of surprising details, including a real penny embedded in the paint.

“In this painting, the man is standing in his environment and on the right is black and white and on the left is full color and he’s got his back towards us and he’s moving towards these glowing gates. It’s really about the afterlife, the real life and the spiritual life,” said Faxon.

While “Break on through the other side” depicts an outdoor environment, “Elizabeth at the Piano,” an 1875 oil painting by Thomas Eakins, portrays an indoor scene. Despite a dark shadow enveloping the image, the large canvas presents a girl, clad in a black gown with a dainty red flower pinned in her hair, gracefully playing a tune on the piano.

“‘Elizabeth at the Piano’ is a portrait of someone that Thomas Eakins knew. But to me, it is also about the interior mind of the sitter and maybe even of the artist as music fills that canvas so that it’s a view of something that we can recognize, but it’s also a statement of something that is a bit more internalized,” said Faxon.

The exhibit also features four three-dimensional pieces, including “Fighting Satan,” a sculpture by Clayton George Bailey. The ceramic piece features a fiery red devil sitting on a throne of skulls and Bibles. The words “Demon GENERATOR” and “INSERT COIN GIVES PHYSIC IMMUNITY” are emblazoned below the seated devil.

“Fighting Satan” is a mixed-media piece incorporating sound. According to Faxon, if one either places a coin in or pushes the devil’s right hand, the sculpture releases a cackling sound while a light flashes on the top of the sculpture.

“We hope that visitors will see some of their favorite works in new ways, in context with works new to the collection or works being shown in the galleries for the first time. We’re excited about some of the connections that we’ll be able to make with classes, from ideas about the ways in which authors describe place to mathematical calculations to abstractions in poetry,” said Kaplowitz.

“Exterior Spaces, Interior Places” will be on view until January 4, 2015.