As students entered the second floor of the Addison Gallery of American Art, they were welcomed by a photograph of a monkey skeleton. The photograph, portraying the intricately structured ivory bones, seemed as if it were a three-dimensional structure. Along with this photograph, last Friday, the Addison officially opened the gallery for the school year, showcasing its two new exhibitions: “Four Stories and Nature Stands Aside.”
“Four Stories,” by photojournalist Harry Benson, was showcased on the first floor of the Addison. After receiving several loans from Benson, the Addison now has many of his pieces from the ’60s. Benson is an award-winning photographer who has demonstrated a wide range of monumental historical events in his work, such as the Civil Rights marches, the Watts Riots, and the last 13 U.S. presidents, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Joe Biden.
“Building on the Addison’s holdings of works by Benson and amplified with loans from the artist, this exhibition focuses on four powerful photo stories from the 1960s: the building of the Berlin Wall, the Beatles’ first American tour, the James Meredith March Against Fear, and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. These photographs not only catapulted Benson’s career, but also incisively capture defining moments of this tumultuous period in history,” said Gordon Wilkins, a Robert M. Walker Curator at the Addison.
On the second floor was “Nature Stands Aside” by contemporary photographer Rosamond Purcell. Throughout her career, Purcell has collaborated with paleontologists, anthropologists, historians, and a variety of other professionals to explore the shifting boundaries between art and science. Breaking the barriers of logic and reasoning, Purcell’s exhibition pushes forth her unique interpretations of humanity.
“Rosamond Purcell: ‘Nature Stands Aside’ takes up the entirety of the second floor. That exhibition looks at… the way in which she’s thinking about the overlap between art and science and questions of where we draw the line between the two, the differences between the manufactured and the human made, questions of what is sublime and what is beautiful. What do we collect? How does that help us to think that we understand the world?” said Jamie Gibbons, Head of Education at the Addison.
From the new exhibitions, Wilkins hopes that students will be inspired by interacting with Purcell, who will serve as an Edward E. Elson Artist-in-Residence this term, and the prevailing connections of Benson’s work to modern day.
“Purcell’s work fundamentally altered the way I look at the world through its embrace of associative thinking and the way in which it breaks down barriers between art and science and the manmade and the nature—my hope is that it will impact students in a similar fashion… [and] while these photographs in ‘Harry Benson: Four Stories’ tell a powerful story about the historic 1960s, we hope visitors will find a continued resonance in these images,” said Wilkins.
Continually working to challenge and inspire its visitors, Wilkins explains that the Addison’s primary goal for this year is to expose its visitors to new artists and ideas that have influenced America. For students, the works of the Addison may provide additional sources of information that go beyond what they learn about history in textbooks.
“One of our primary goals is to continue to expand the canon of American art through the acquisition and exhibition of important artworks by LGBTQIA+, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian American identifying artists. The work, of course, never ends, but I believe we’ve made and will continue to make great strides this year and beyond,” said Wilkins.
Looking ahead, on October 22 at 5 p.m., Benson will host a Q&A session in Kemper Auditorium. At 6 p.m., the Addison will host another reception focused on the Harry Benson exhibition.
“For students who are interested in hearing [Benson] talk about his work… he’s photographed for Life magazine…[and] for Vanity Fair…The list of places that have published… is enormous,” said Gibbons.
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