Sarah Oppenheimer: Sensitive Machine
September 4 — December 2, 2021

Tracy L. Adler
Johnson-Pote Director
Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art
Hamilton College


September 4 – December 2, 2021

Curated by Tracy L. Adler, Johnson-Pote Director

Sarah Oppenheimer: Sensitive Machine invites visitors to collaboratively realign and reconfigure the Wellin’s Dietrich Exhibition Gallery. Visitors touch and turn hollow black beams, setting in motion a relay of spatial cause and effect. Walls split and slide, creating new sightlines, while lighting tracks rise and fall, shifting the radiance of the gallery. Conceptually, the work explores how our actions—both individually and communally—shape the spaces we inhabit. The work invites improvisation and mobilizes group dynamics, bringing awareness to the collaborative experience of inhabited architecture. 

The exhibition is comprised of four newly designed “instruments” that build on Oppenheimer’s recent exhibitions at Kunstmuseum Thun in Switzerland and Carnegie Mellon University's Miller Institute for Contemporary Art in Pittsburgh. 

Created for the Wellin Museum’s open-plan exhibition space, four “instruments” link existing lighting tracks and subdividing walls. As visitors manually activate these works, a choreography of spatial change is set in motion. Lighting tracks slip between the vertical surfaces of sliding walls; luminosity levels fluctuate while sightlines are interrupted and revealed. Gradually, visitors become aware of the dynamic changes and learn their component rhythms. Sensitive Machine forms a complex spatial network activated by the collaborative gestures of engaged viewers. 

Sarah Oppenheimer (b. 1972, Austin, Texas; lives and works in New York City) received a BA from Brown University in 1995 and an MFA from Yale University in 1999. Her work has been featured in solo exhibitions at Kunstmuseum Thun, Switzerland (2020); MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts (2019); the Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio (2017); the Pérez Art Museum Miami, Florida (2016); MUDAM: Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg (2016); and Kunsthaus Baselland, Muttenz, Switzerland (2014). She is a recipient of the Rome Prize (2011–12), Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship (2009), and Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2007). Oppenheimer is currently a senior critic at the Yale University School of Art.


Past Exhibition Programming:

Artists in Conversation: Sarah Oppenheimer
Friday, September 3, 1:00 p.m.
Sarah Oppenheimer will lead a virtual preview of the exhibition in dialogue with Tracy L. Adler.

Opening Day Celebration
Saturday, September 4, 1:00 p.m. — 5:00 p.m.
Join us for an indoor-outdoor celebration with the Wellin Museum and artist Sarah Oppenheimer. In the gallery, visitors will have the opportunity to interact with artworks in the exhibition for the first time. Enjoy refreshments under a canopy on the Wellin’s Selch Terrace.

Empathy and the Sensitive Machine: Sarah Oppenheimer and Suzanne Keen
Wednesday, September 29, 4:30 p.m.
Bradford Auditorium, KJ 125
This in-person event will feature exhibiting artist Sarah Oppenheimer in dialogue with Hamilton’s vice president of academic affairs and dean of faculty Suzanne Keen, author of Empathy and the Novel.

Image Credit: John Bentham