Abelardo Morell, the Cuban-born photographer, transforms
everyday objects and occurrences into mesmerizing, almost magical
images. Organized by the Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) in San
Diego, Abelardo Morell and the Camera Eye is the first major
traveling exhibition to consider the full extent of the artist's work.
Born in Havana in 1948, Morell makes familiar subjects - ordinary
domestic objects and interiors, illustrated books and maps, his
children at play - extraordinary by revealing the optical phenomena
at work. Inspired in equal parts by the magical properties of
scientific phenomena, the potential of poetry to transform the
mundane, and the camera as an agent of vision and light, Abelardo
Morell's photographs explore the workings of the everyday world,
notes curator Diane Gaston in her catalog essay. He approaches the
medium as a philosopher might, constantly questioning and probing its
inherent properties, seeking a more complete understanding of the
camera's logic and mystery. His approach to the medium is
surprisingly traditional, achieving his effects through the camera's
ability to record unusual perspectives, discrepancies of scale,
reflections of light and shadow and the passage of time.
The exhibition examines three areas of the artist's work:
Domestic Objects and Optical Phenomena begins with the birth in
1986 of Morell's son, Brady. Previously, Morell had worked as a
black-and-white street photographer in the tradition of Robert Frank.
With his son, however, he began to explore the world from a child's
perspective. This renewed curiosity led him to present domestic space
from seemingly odd vantage points, noting discrepancies of scale and
the faintly ominous lure of unfamiliar textures and materials.
Books, Maps and Paintings began during Morell's tenure as an
artist-in-residence at the Boston Athenaeum in 1994-95. Through his
photographic interpretation, the familiar structure of the book is
treated as a sumptuous physical object; he reveals the surfaces of
leather bindings, the reflective quality of inks, the texture of
papers. The strange rift that occurs within images that are printed
across two pages provides infinite possibilities for his lens.
Similarly, he reworked the narratives of paintings in photographs he
made at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, also in Boston.
The Camera Obscura, Morell's most ambitious series to date,
involves the optical effects of the camera obscura, the Latin term
for a dark chamber or room. Morell actually creates a room-size
camera by covering all windows and doors with dark plastic and making
a single 3/8-inch opening to serve as an aperture. He then sets up
his tripod and large-format camera, opens the shutter and leaves the
room, allowing the inverted scene that is projected on the opposite
wall to register on film over the course of a long exposure, which
ranges from eight hours to two days. Through these experimentations,
Morell has recorded a range of public and private views, merging the
space of the outside world with the intimacies of the interior realm.
Before coming to the Bayly, the exhibition traveled to the Museum of
Fine Arts in Boston and the Saint Louis Art Museum in addition to
several other university art museums. It features 60 gelatin silver
prints, on loan courtesy of the Bonni Benrubi Gallery of New York,
and is accompanied by a 60-page soft-cover catalog, including 30
duotones and an essay by former MoPA curator Diana Gaston.
The exhibition and tour are supported in part by generous grants from
the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Lawrence S. Coben,
the Corky and Carl Foundation, the H. Kenneth Branson Family Fund,
the San Diego Foundation Barbara Freeman Fund, and the National
Endowment for the Arts. Its presentation at the Bayly Art Museum is
made possible with support from the University's Arts Enhancement
Fund and Arts.
Abelardo Morell will visit the University of Virginia in March. He
will present a talk on his work, co-sponsored by the McIntire
Department of Art, on Thursday, March 1 at 5:30 p.m. in Campbell Hall
153. He also will be at the Museum's First Fridays reception from
5:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 2.
American, born 1948
Gelatin silver print, 24 x 20
© Abelardo Morell Courtesy the artist
and Bonni Benrubi Gallery, New York