Change your perspective by visiting “SEEN.” The exhibit, put together by curator Jon Seals DIV ’15, explores our sense of sight and the relationship between an object and its viewer. Located in the Institute of Sacred Music at the Divinity School, it features five different contemporary artists — Ryan Foster, Bill Greiner, Camille Hoffman, Perry Obee and J.D. Richey. All five work in extremely different ways, and the juxtaposition of their styles helps viewers understand the complexity of sight.
The exhibit itself spans the length of a hallway, with each artist’s collection displayed in succession. Obee’s work, which makes up the hallway’s first section, consists of more muted, pastel colors and simple shapes: He studies how light interacts with objects. Next comes Greiner’s watercolors, beautiful landscapes also highly dependent on light, yet totally different from Obee’s minimalistic studies. As I examined them more closely, I soon noticed that even these realistic watercolors reflect Greiner’s unique ways of seeing — he depicts shadows with large blots and splatters, and uses a careful layering of bright colors. (I preferred Greiner’s watercolors of all the art. His work is simply beautiful, the illusion of nature and light captured in a precise yet expressive fashion.)
Hoffman’s pieces come next. She creates multidimensional, layered works using canvas, cloth, glass and paint. When viewed straight on, the layers meld to form a cohesive piece, but from side angles, they separate into individual parts. After admiring this first section for a while, I moved on to the next two artists. Richey primarily depicts street scenes, relying on pieces of overlapping canvas, bold colors and ever-so-slightly exaggerated perspectives. I reached Foster last, discovering his compelling mix of realistic still lifes and dramatic landscapes. Each painting is odd but exciting and dynamic.
Since the curator selected only paintings, I felt that I could pick out differences between the artists and their approaches to sight. I don’t think I could have noticed those nuances if the exhibit had included a wider range of media. After about five minutes in the Institute, I got the strange feeling that I could understand each artist’s gaze, which was both exciting and unsettling. Of course, I would have enjoyed any given piece on its own — there was raw skill, technical mastery and simplicity in every painting.
Though I liked the exhibit, I did take issue with aspects of the set-up. It’s important to start from the beginning, since the display moves from simple depictions of light to increasingly nuanced pieces, but an extra set of doors will allow people to begin their walk-through at the end. I had some trouble getting a good look at the paintings due to the narrow width of the hallway. Several of the pieces, especially the larger ones by Richey, would really benefit from more space. And many of the pieces had either glass covers or heavy varnish, creating a bright glare from the many large windows. Though these may not be huge issues for most people, those looking to really study every detail will probably be a bit frustrated by the curation of “SEEN.” The art is really so wonderful that it deserves a bigger, better-lit space — it’s a shame to struggle to really see “SEEN.”
I’m not sure that “SEEN” is worth its own trek up Science Hill, but if you’re already there, for a lab or a run, you really have no excuse to miss it. Anyone interested in the mechanics of perception — such as students who have completed basic drawing — should make an effort to visit the Institute of Sacred Music.