New MAG exhibit is an artful time machine
05:00 AM, Oct 27, 2013
is an interactive sculpture composed of 1,000 souvenir slide viewers suspended from the ceiling of the Memory Theatre 2013 exhibits central space. Each slide viewer contains a different, 35-mm slide from the 1940s to the 70s, chosen and cut by artist Judith G. Levy.
If you go
What: Memory Theatre 2013.
When: Through Dec. 29.
Where: Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Ave.
Cost: $12; $8 for seniors; $5 for students. Half-price after 5 p.m. Thursday.
For information: (585) 276-8900 or mag.rochester.edu.
When the Memorial Art Gallery held an opening reception for its new major exhibit, “Memory Theatre 2013,” earlier this month, Marie Via took a moment to stand back and soak it all in.
“I loved hearing visitors talking about their memories with each other and carefully reading about each piece,” says Via, the MAG’s director of exhibitions. “Those are the moments we live for when people want to do more than just look at a piece of art.”
Indeed, “Memory Theatre 2013,” a continuation of exhibits marking the MAG’s 100th anniversary, offers a rich tray of art for guests to experience with many of their senses.
Central to this experience is the exhibit’s anchor, a stunning interactive sculpture called Memory Cloud by Kansas-based artist Judith G. Levy.
Memory Cloud is composed of 1,000 souvenir slide viewers suspended at various heights from the ceiling of the exhibit’s central space. Each slide viewer contains a different, 35-mm slide from the 1940s to the 1970s, carefully chosen and cut by Levy.
The 1,000 images are all of people in the United States. None are family or friends of Levy’s, but all contain familiar images meant to elicit emotion and memory in the viewer.
There are happy slides (a little boy with Santa Claus) and sad scenes (a family at a funeral).
Some of the plastic viewers in the Memory Cloud, built specifically for the MAG, are out of reach even to the tallest guest something that Levy intended.
“We all have memories and some are more accessible than others,” she says. “Some are not accessible at all.”
This complex mix of memories is a key theme of the exhibit, which uses both historical and contemporary art to achieve that goal.
“We didn’t want a show about memory to only be about loss,” Via says. “Memory is also about celebrating and moving forward.”
There is certainly a strong and necessary nod to loss in the exhibit, such as a series of Nathan Lyons photographs of the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a haunting installation by Barton Benes of dozens of wall-mounted AIDS ribbons, created partly from the cremains of a friend who died of the disease.
Intermingled with memories of loss are much lighter works, like Nate’s Word, Chapter 2: Memory, 2009, an entertaining video by Nate Maydole in which he films himself saying one word related to “memory” each day for a year, and Richard Dupont’s captivating Cabinet, a huge polyurethane resin head filled with random items collected from his studio.
Visitors can also add to the exhibit. One wall is for visitors to record and place their own memories on Post-it notes that ask questions from patrons’ first memories to their favorite and most powerful ones. So far, notes on the wall range from “Looking at my first child minutes after birth” to “My father lying on the floor of the bathroom having died of a heart attack.”
As more are added, the memory slips will end up overlapping each other, which is purposeful.
“Memories often overlap,” Via said.
The MAG itself also is part of the exhibit in its role as a repository of memories. Also, the exhibit is another way the museum is marking its 100th anniversary.
Gifts from Emily Sibley Watson to the University of Rochester to honor her son James G. Averell, who died in 1904 at age 26, established the MAG. She also commissioned sculptor William Ordway Partridge to create a life-size marble work called Memory to remember her son.
The sculpture was permanently installed in 1914 on the second floor of the MAG, but for the purpose of “Memory Theatre 2013,” Via and museum staff wanted it included. So they commissioned John Perry of Vermont to create a hologram of Memory. Perry, who earned his doctorate at the UR and owns Holographics North in Vermont, visited the MAG in the spring to study and photograph the original sculpture.
“I knew the hologram had to be quiet, spiritual and thoughtful,” Perry says.
It is. The amber hologram, which floats alone in a dark room in the gallery, has a reverent quality to it, but the technology behind it reminds you of the present.
It beautifully reflects one of the many quotes on exhibit’s walls, this one by Gertrude Stein: “History takes time. History makes memory.”