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Snite Museum presents photography exhibits

Molly Griffin | Thursday, November 18, 2004

The most notable parallel between the two new exhibits at Notre Dame’s Snite Museum of Art is that they are both in black and white, but the similarities end with that lack of color. The natural photography of Ansel Adams: Photographs from the collection of John and Barbara Glynn and the bold images of Richard Serra: Large Scale Prints are stylistically different, but both are equally intriguing. As a concept, black and white nature photographs don’t seem like the best idea because they neglect one of the most prominent features of the natural world, which is its abundance of color. The collection of Ansel Adams’ work reveals that nature photographs can be just as effective, if not more, than their full-color relatives. Without the distraction of color, the intricate details that are often overlooked can be appreciated in its full splendor. Ansel Adams is one of the most famous photographers in the world, but he is also one of the most misunderstood. Many think that he was an environmentalist who took photos for use in environmental campaigns, but he has only gained this reputation because he allowed many of his prints to be used in Sierra Club campaigns. Adams actually had a series of almost religious revelations while hiking in California’s High Sierra, and his photographs are essentially a quest to capture the divine movement and change of nature. Transitive elements, such as the weather or light, emerge as the central focus of Adams’ work. The best example may be in this work “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” in which the foreground of sagebrush expands upward into a town with a graveyard, shadowed mesas, snow-capped mountains, ephemeral clouds and the full moon. The multi-layered composition is highlighted by the vast expanse of black at the top of the photograph. In this work, Adams captures not only the fleeting natural world around us, but also the evanescent nature of human life with the inclusion of the graveyard. “The Golden Gate Before the Bridge, San Francisco, 1932” provides a concrete example of the changing nature of life because it shows the bay area prior to the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge and the urban sprawl of the city. To see the site of a now major metropolis as an uncluttered natural landscape has an especially profound impact on the modern viewer. Richard Serra began making prints in 1972 and continues to do so to this day. He uses printmaking in bold new ways, and his works must be experienced in person in order to grasp their full impact. On paper, Serra’s work seems to be nothing more than black shapes on white canvases, but the sense of mass and movement created by his deceptively simple work is incredibly powerful when viewed in person. The 37 works currently on view at the Snite museum were chosen by the artist and Allison Kemmerer, curator of the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy. The use of varied techniques including paint stick, etching and color lithograph on different types of paper gives each work a different texture, appearance and unique character. Serra works entirely in black and white because he wanted to avoid the connections with nature that color evokes and instead focus on the structural aspects of his work. The names given to Serra’s works are an especially interesting aspect of viewing them. Many are named after famous individuals, such as “Rosa Parks” (1987), “Bessie Smith” (1999), “Billie Holiday” (1999), and “Muddy Waters” (1987). Others like “The Moral Majority Sucks” (1981) make an interesting statement. Works like “Iceland,” “Paris” and “Reykjavik” reveal the inspiration of places on the artist. Serra is well-known in the art community as a sculptor, and his works have been exhibited in The Dia Center for the Arts in New York, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Recently, Serra was given $20 million to create a permanent installation of sculptures for Guggenheim Bilbao.The exhibit of Ansel Adams’ work will be at the Snite from Sept. 5 through Oct. 31 in the Milly and Fritz Kaeser Mestrovic Studio Gallery, and Richard Serra’s work will be on view from Sept. 5 through Nov. 14 in the O’Shaughnessy Galleries West and Entrance Atrium. The Snite Museum is located on the Notre Dame campus, and gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday, and 1p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.