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"Domestic Objects and Optical Phenomena"
2001-01-26 until 2001-03-25
Bayly Art Museum
Charlottesville, VA, USA

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.

IMAGE:
Abelardo Morell,
American, born 1948
Footprints, 1987
Gelatin silver print, 24 x 20
Abelardo Morell Courtesy the artist
and Bonni Benrubi Gallery, New York


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