Theaters of Fiction presents work by seven contemporary artists who have utilized a variety of means and mediums to explore themes of illusion, escapism, and artificiality through the physical space of the theater and its accoutrements. Rather than depicting actors or audience members, these artists look outside the performance itself to the space in which it unfolds. Foregrounding the absences present in spaces where fictions are staged, these works explore the enchantment and fallacy of fantasy and reveal the constructs and hierarchies of culture and of the fabrications with which we entertain ourselves.
The artworks included in the exhibition were created over the last twenty years by a roster of international artists with divergent practices: Rhona Bitner (American, born 1960), Ceal Floyer (British, born Pakistan, 1968), Candida Höfer (German, born 1944), Lisa Kereszi (American, born 1973), Guillermo Kuitca (Argentinian, born 1961), Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948), and Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953). Some of the works address the theater and opera’s historic associations with power, privilege, and wealth. Others represent sites of more democratic and popular entertainment to examine themes of escapism. All, however, engage in dialogue around image creation and art production in a highly self-reflexive manner.
Theaters of Fiction features two installation works addressing the theater as a literal and metaphorical stage. Exploring issues of race, segregation, and the exploitation of women, Weems’s Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me (2012) comprises a stage set that hosts a video-based projection created using the nineteenth-century theatrical illusion referred to as “Pepper’s Ghost.” Employing a theater lantern to project an image of a red curtain—rather than to illuminate it—Ceal Floyer’s Double Act (2006) offers an illusion that calls attention to the fallacy of sight and underscores the anticipation and expectation around public performance. Bitner, Höfer, Kereszi, and Sugimoto contribute photographs depicting the theater in a variety of styles, and Kuitca rounds out the exhibition with mixed-media collages based on theater seating charts and architectural plans.
Theaters of Fiction is curated by Katherine Alcauskas, the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art’s Collections Curator and Exhibitions Manager, and will be on view from February 16 through June 9, 2019. As part of the interactive and exploratory WellinWorks series, an experimental theater space will accompany the exhibition and will host courses, pop-up activities, and exhibition-related programming between February 16 and April 14, 2019.
Image Credit: Candida Höfer. Teatro Comunale di Bologna I, 2006. Chromogenic print, 70 7/8 x 85 in. Collection of the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, Clinton, NY. Purchase, William G. Roehrick '34 Art Acquisition and Preservation Fund. © Candida Höfer, Köln / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Image courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery, New York.