Campus News

The Disembodied Spirit Opens September 25 at Museum of Art

Story posted September 05, 2003

The Disembodied Spirit is a unique interdisciplinary exploration of art and culture in the late nineteenth century and the late twentieth century involving the depiction or suggestion of ghosts.

Organized by Bowdoin College Museum of Art and on view Thursday, September 25, through Sunday, December 7, the exhibition will examine the social and cultural circumstances in which ghosts have entered public discourse, while considering as well the manner and media through which the ghostly has been rendered in images.

The Disembodied Spirit will observe how artists in both the late nineteenth and late twentieth century have represented absence while still indicating presence -- exploiting formal elements such as transparency, light, shadows, weightlessness -- and how they manipulate, alter, and exaggerate these characteristics.

More particularly, it will explore how the recourse to the ghostly may be, in part, a by-product of technological advancements -- first photography and telegraphy and most recently the computer. Like ghosts, these dematerializing technological innovations produced both anxiety and optimism in their societies, while simultaneously altering, quite dramatically, notions of representation and vision.

Accordingly, the exhibition and accompanying catalogue essays will examine cultural phenomena such as Spiritualism in the late nineteenth century, as well as the contemporary fixation with cyberspace, virtual reality, and the less techno-hip phenomenon of angels.

Included are works by nineteenth-century photographers such as William Mumler, Georgiana Houghton, Julia Margaret Cameron and anonymous practitioners of spirit photography. The exhibition also includes works by twentieth- and twenty-first-century artists including Diane Arbus, Archive, John Baldessari, Zoe Beloff, Joseph Beuys, Jeremy Blake, Christian Boltanski, Christopher Bucklow, Nancy Burson, Jim Campbell, Bruce Conner, Gregory Crewdson, Adam Fuss, Anna Gaskell, Ann Hamilton, Bill Jacobson, Mike Kelley, Clarence John Laughlin, Glenn Ligon, Sally Mann, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Duane Michals, Tracey Moffatt, Mariko Mori, Bruce Nauman, Cornelia Parker, Leighton Pierce, Michal Rovner, Meghan Scribner, James VanDerZee, Bill Viola, and Francesca Woodman.

After closing on December 7, 2003, The Disembodied Spirit will travel to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri (March 5-May 23, 2004), and the Austin Museum of Art (September 11-November 28, 2004). A fully illustrated, color catalogue accompanies the exhibition featuring essays by curator Alison Ferris and scholars Tom Gunning and Pamela Thurschwell.

An opening reception and lecture by Marina Warner titled "Imaging Things: Thought-Pictures and Ethereal Presences" will be held Friday, October 3 at 7:30 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium, Visual Arts Center. Warner writes fiction, history and criticism; her acclaimed studies of myth and imagination include From the Beast to the Blonde: on Fairy Tales and their Tellers, and Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds. Her most recent novel is The Leto Bundle. She has been a Getty scholar, Reith lecturer, a Visiting Fellow Commoner at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was appointed a Chevalier de l'Order des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

On Wednesday, October 8, at 4 p.m., John Jacob will speak in Beam Classroom in the Visual Arts Center. As the former director of the Photographic Resource Center in Boston, Jacob will speak on the topic "Picturing the Afterlife: Photography as Purported Evidence for Survival from the Archives of the American Society for Psychical Research."

Tom Gunning, professor of art history and criticism at the University of Chicago and essay contributor to the catalogue for The Disembodied Spirit will present a lecture entitled "Ghosts, Apparitions and Visual Illusions" on Thursday, October 30 at 7:30 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium.

There will also be two gallery lectures given by Bowdoin College professors. On Wednesday, November 5 at 4 p.m., Madeleine Msall, associate professor of physics and astronomy, will speak about "Rational Ghosts -- The Allure of Scientific Theories of the Unseen." Peter Coviello, assistant professor of English, will speak on the topic "Ghosts of Freud" on November 12 at 4 p.m. in the Walker Art Building.

These events are free of charge and are open to the public.

The Disembodied Spirit is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Generous funding was also received from the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation and the LEF Foundation. Major funding for the project is from Bowdoin College Endowments restricted to support Museum of Art programs.

The programs and exhibitions of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art are open to the public free of charge. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. The Museum is closed on Mondays and national holidays.

For more information call (207) 725-3275.

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