The Sea & The Sky

February 17–April 25, 2000
Arcadia University Art Gallery


Michael Blodget, Vija Celmins, Thomas Chimes, Seoungho Cho, Linda Connor, Russell Crotty, Tacita Dean, Elger Esser, Spencer Finch, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Andreas Gursky, Richard Harrod, Willie McKeown, Michael Light, Garry Fabian Miller, Richard Misrach, Donald Moffett, Stephen Murphy, Eileen Neff, Robert Nesbit, Thomas Ruff, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Judith Taylor, Grace Weir, Bradley Wind

Eileen Neff, Five, for Example, 1990, black and white silverprints on board, 36” x 60” x 37 1/2.”

“The Sea and the Sky” focuses on the ocean, atmosphere, and cosmos as subjects for contemporary works by twenty-four American, European, and Asian artists who employ celestial and watery imagery to reflect on the existential and sublime.

Co-presented by the Beaver College Art Gallery and the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, Ireland and curated by Patrick T. Murphy and Richard Torchia.

A 47-page catalogue accompanies this exhibition with an essay by Susan Stewart and a published conversation between the curators.

“In works of art representing the sea or the sky, there is always an infinite reach or recession—behind the heavens is the unending vastness of space; behind the breakers, the extent of the main; under the surface, the depths; behind the clouds, the stars; behind the stars, more stars; and behind our conscious ness of these views, a vast, inarticulate, and untranslatable consciousness. Every gesture indicating surface and depth in these works is an index to the profundity of profundity itself. As watchers of the sea and heavens—at least from Amerigo Vespucci onward—gathered their observations in notebooks and bound manuscripts, they speak to our need to find some legible and encompassing form for such vastness. Meville’s Ishmael described the laborious transmutation of the whale into “Bible leaves! Bible leaves!” Marcel Proust watched the sea reflected in the glass of a bookcase. To frame enormity within the covers of a book, to register the infinite through a series of patient, exacting, marks on sheets of paper, brings the scale of such phenomena back to hand and eye and thought—the vehicles of human intelligibility.”

Excerpt from “What Thought is Like” by Susan Stewart from the Sea and the Sky catalogue.

Robert Nesbit’s Setting Sun is a videotape documenting an entire sunset filmed in real-time from his north-Philadelphia rooftop. Placed on a shelf in the gallery’s functioning utility closet—like another can of paint or a waiting spotlight—the T.V. monitor is the only source of illumination in the intimate space. The work becomes a tragic comment on our capacity to appreciate both natural and aesthetic occurrences, however mediated and displaced.

Karen Butler, Scene 8, from the series Anywhere but Here, 2000, C-print mounted on Plexiglass, 48” x 72.”

For her ongoing series Anywhere but Here, begun in 1997, Karen Butler uses acetate, vacuum-formed plastic, colored lights, and a variety of commercially printed “sky” backdrops to create tabletop dioramas of nearly featureless seascapes. She then photographs these fabrications with a macro lens and prints them as large-scale Cibachromes.Mounted behind sheets of Plexiglass, her saturated views invite reverie within an ambiguous space confused by the uncertainty of subject matter.

Vija Celmins, From China, 1982, graphite on acrylic ground on paper, 21” x 21.”

Each of the photographs that comprise Eileen Neff’s Five, for Example depicts a cropped view of a different body of water. Configured into an oversize “book” whose freestanding panels play on the illusory verticality of water surfaces viewed obliquely, the work’s real subject becomes the nature of representation itself. Despite the implication of a countless procession of waves, the work’s sculptural physicality and its inevitable limitations, by contrast, remind us of how cerebral our concepts of distance, mutability, and infinity can be. Like most of her work, Vija Celmins’ From China is based on a photograph—in this case a magazine clipping about one and a half inches square. Dense layers of graphite, applied with extremely soft pencils brought back from China to the artist as a gift, build up this dark field of the image while the stars are formed by the isolation of the white acrylic ground. What might be a comet trail, created by the aggressive drag of a pencil point that tears the fabric of the paper, divides the composition horizontally.