Magical Exhibition at the Getty Explores Emergent Media's Rich Lineage
Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen
Exhibitions Pavilion, J. Paul Getty Museum
November 13, 2001-February 3, 2002
Press Preview: Tuesday, November 13, 2001, 9-11 a.m.
October 23, 2001
Los Angeles--Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen, a far-reaching and innovative exhibition organized by the Getty Research Institute and on view exclusively at the J. Paul Getty Museum from November 13, 2001, through February 3, 2002, explores our long and playful entanglement with the artful instruments and magical technologies we have placed between our eyes and the world. Featuring more than 400 objects from the 17th century to the present selected from the collections of the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Museum, and other institutions and individual collectors worldwide, the exhibition demonstrates how old and new visual technologies foster new perceptions of the universe, bringing to life the rich lineage of today's emergent media.
Pointing out relationships among artifacts, scientific books, and works of art, Devices of Wonder demonstrates the fluid boundaries between art history and fields such as optics, philosophy, natural history, and magic. Visitors will be invited to interact with many of the wondrous and surprising works. The exhibition features a Wunderkabinett (cabinet of wonders); rare natural history books; zoological, botanical, and mineral specimens; educational toys; early cameras; historical prints; and works by modern and contemporary artists such as Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Cindy Sherman, Diana Thater, James Turrell, Kara Walker, and Jeff Wall. Visitors can also experience Lucas Samaras' dazzling Mirrored Room; and a site-specific installation by Tiffany Holmes titled <email@example.com> uses surveillance cameras and digital imagery to give visitors an unexpected look at each other.
Devices of Wonder ushers in the Getty Research Institute's 2001-2002 scholar year theme, "Frames of Viewing: Perception, Experience, Judgment." Thomas Crow, director of the Getty Research Institute, says, "This compelling exhibition moves between technological, cultural, and aesthetic frames for seeing and representing the world. I think visitors will find it both intellectually provocative and highly enjoyable as they form their own connections through the experience of Devices of Wonder."
Six years in the making, the exhibition is co-curated by Frances Terpak, curator of photographs at the Getty Research Institute, and Barbara Maria Stafford, William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor in the department of art history at the University of Chicago. It is organized to explore the following topics: collections of natural wonders and artificial curiosities, or Wunderkammern; lenses for scientific study and entertainment; metamorphosis and anamorphosis (phenomena whereby images are unintelligible until viewed from a particular vantage point or reflected in a special mirror); automatons; shadow, light, and projected images; dissolving special effects; panoramas and other all-embracing views; and home entertainment, both historical and contemporary.
"Before cyberspace, humans created a host of gadgets to enhance visual perception. Devices of Wonder brings together hundreds of objects that possess the uncanny power to amplify experience, opening our eyes to the stunning domains beyond the limits of the unaided senses," Terpak says. "Cut off from their historical roots, contemporary technologies appear thin and disconnected from their past, but Devices of Wonder connects today's 'worlds in a box' with their historical counterparts."
Natural specimens as objects of study and wonder played an integral part in European intellectual life from the 16th through 19th centuries. The acquisition, examination, and display of such items produced a community of collectors whose collections ranged in size from entire rooms (Wunderkammern) to tabletop cabinets (Wunderkabinette). One of the highlights of Devices of Wonder will be a rare 17th-century German display cabinet (Augsburg, Germany, 1620-30) exquisitely fashioned of multiple woods, ivory, marble, semiprecious stones, enamel, tortoiseshell, and decorative carvings. The Augsburg cabinet is itself a compendium of organic materials, craftsmanship, and cultural knowledge, but when filled with an encyclopedic collection of artificial and natural wonders and crowned exclusively for this exhibition with a modern assemblage of shells and minerals, it is transformed into a diminutive Wunderkammer.
Lucas Samaras' 1966 Mirrored Room has been moved from its permanent home at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, especially for Devices of Wonder. Measuring eight by eight by ten feet and completely clad with mirrors inside and out, Mirrored Room surprises, unnerves, and amuses the visitor. Convex and concave mirrors that enlarge, diminish, and distort the world, along with flat mirrors that reflect it more accurately, figured prominently in early Wunderkammern and later reverberated in the world of contemporary art. Like early experimenters who built mirrored boxes to study the angles and physical laws of reflection as well as the psychology of reflected images, Samaras constructed a chamber that reflects the viewer and also makes the viewer self-reflect--Mirrored Room has the effect of putting people on stage, projecting them into a space beyond "normal" reality as they approach, enter, or retreat.
The automaton section of the exhibition will feature Android Clarinetist, a life-size robot created by Cornelis Jacobus van Oeckelen in 1838. Large-scale automatons, conceived as mechanical wonders and designed to enact allegorical performances, heightened the fascination of Renaissance and Mannerist gardens and reached the peak of their popularity in the 18th century. Van Oeckelen's android toured the major cities of the Netherlands as well as Boston and New York, and became a public sensation performing four classical pieces on a 32-note clarinet.
Note to editors: The exhibition Manuel Alvarez Bravo: Optical Parables also opens at the J. Paul Getty Museum on November 13.
Color images and video b-roll available upon request.
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