New Addison Exhibition ‘Language, Sequence, and Structure’ Brings Theory, Feminism, and Gay Semiotics Together

In a brightly lit room toward the back of the Addison Gallery, a peek of the upcoming exhibition titled “Language, Sequence, and Structure” occupies the walls. Gordon Wilkins, Associate Curator of American Art at the Addison, chose the artists, Lew Thomas, Donna-Lee Phillips, and Hal Fischer, to be a part of the exhibition because of the unique stories they tell through photography. 

“They were all interested in language and photography. And use similar devices like sequences. And we’re interested in multiple images and series-based work––and work that involved the written word and the photographic image, but they went about it in different ways,” said Wilkins.

Wilkins made a point of having these three artists’ photography unite in the same room because of how their worlds offer different points of view of northern California in the seventies. Although their works are similar in format, each artist puts their own twist on their installation. 

“Lew was probably the most sort of intellectual or theoretical in his work, Donna-Lee brought this feminist perspective to her work, and then Hal brought a queer perspective which Lew and Donna-Lee really encouraged,” said Wilkins.

According to Wilkins, Hal Fischer is most notable for his work in gay semiotics during the 1970s. Wilkins hoped to incorporate Fischer’s work in this new exhibition to bring an honest and open queer narrative to the Addison. 

“It really started with Hal Fischer’s gay semiotic series, which is this really iconic work of conceptual photography, and particularly iconic within a queer art sort of context and something that I’ve been aware of for many years. And this piece was something that I thought would be a really valuable addition to the Addison,” said Wilkins.

As an art curator, Wilkins has noticed that most of the art on the East Coast originates from big cities like New York City. He was motivated to have these three specific artists contribute to this exhibit in hopes to expose West Coast artists and their fresh ideas to the East.

“[My aim was] to shine a light on these three artists who deserve to be better known, particularly on the East Coast, really outside of Northern California. And then I think that just giving people a fuller appreciation of what was going on in the contemporary art world of the ’70s. And California is an area that [is]…not particularly well represented in our collection. We have certain key works, but it’s an area that I’d like to build up and have us be able to tell kind of a more nuanced story of American art that isn’t so focused on the Northeast,” said Wilkins. 

The new exhibition will be open to the public at the end of November. The following month, Hal Fischer will be on campus to produce work and/or provide advice at the Addison.

“Hal Fischer will be here on campus as an artist in residence in December. So that is going to be really exciting… And so I’m really excited to have him come as I said, he hasn’t made work since the early ’80s. But he’s had a really full career as a critic and museum professional. And he has a lot of first-hand experience that I think students will find really interesting,” said Wilkins.