James Welling: Richardson Photographs 1988–1989

October 11–November 8, 1989
Beaver College Art Gallery

Exhibition Postcard

Large scale photographs by New York artist James Welling will be exhibited October 11 to November 8, 1989 at the Beaver College Art Gallery located in the Spruance Art Center on campus, Church and Easton Roads. The exhibition is entitled "Richardson Photographs 1988–1989".

There will be a public reception for the artist Saturday, October 14, 1989, from 3:00–5:00 PM in the Gallery. At 2:00 PM, immediately preceeding the reception, Welling will lecture on his work in the College's Little Theatre. Both events are free and open to the public.

Welling is one of the most provacative of the photographers to have emerged in the 1980s and he has pursued a singular approach to issues of photographic rhetoric and perception. His early works explored the ambiguous territory between representation and abstraction. They used ordinary materials such as aluminum foil, phyllo dough, jello, and fabric to generate images in which the relationship of what is represented — tin foil, for example — and what it represents — i.e. a landscape — is arbitrary and understood only through the organizing structures of visual conventions.

Welling's exhibition at Beaver presents a selection from his recent photographs of Romanesque Revival buildings by the late 19th Century American architect H. H. Richardson. Richardson is a precursor of American modernists such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, but in his use of historical styles such as the Romanesque, as well as his romantic engagement with the American landscape, Richardson has also been a source for postmodern architecture. In Welling's austere architectural images, then, he is using the late 19th Century — the historical beginning of modernity — as an effective metaphor for our present cultural condition.

"The nineteenth century represents our origins and utopia in terms of technological and cultural values. It's an almost unimaginable world which created and then was obliterated by modernism," Welling said. These images of massive, eclectic, literary structures are symbolic of the monumental cultural forms set in motion by that century. The Richardson photographs will be interspersed with two of Welling's drapery images, which he characterizes as his "personal cenotaph for the nineteenth century". Their softly folded, silky fabrics suggest interior spaces but participate in the same excavation of the 19th Century as the Richardson facades: an exploration of historical surfaces which, by analogy, refer to our own contemporary sense of loss.

Welling is represented in New York City by Jay Gorney Modern Art. He has exhibited widely, and was recently included in the "Forest of Signs" exhibition organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and in the prestigious "BiNational: American Art of the 80s" organized by the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art.

This exhibition is presented on the occasion of the sesquicentennial of photography. It has been funded in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Friends of the Beaver College Art Gallery, and the Department of Fine Arts.