Rosamond Purcell: Nature Stands Aside
September 1 – December 31, 2022
“What kind of genius is Rosamond Purcell? Is she an artist? A scholar? A documentarian? A living cabinet of wonders? Her originality defies category…”
— Jonathan Safran Foer
Murre eggs nestled in cotton that appear to have been decorated by an overzealous Abstract Expressionist, a blanched piranha charging ahead in a glass jar of orange-tinged formaldehyde, a cast off typewriter transformed by time into an octopean tangle of rusticles. From luscious large format Polaroid prints to objects rescued from obscurity, the empathetic, evocative, and multifaceted work of the photographer and conceptual artist Rosamond Purcell (b. 1942) explores the ill-defined interstices between the unsettling and the sublime, the beautiful and the bizarre, the natural and the manufactured. As a body of work, it lays bare humanity’s desperate desire to collect and make sense of it all.
Over a career spanning some fifty years, Purcell has collaborated with paleontologists, anthropologists, historians, museum curators, termite experts, and even a scholar-magician to illuminate and explore the shifting boundaries between art and science. She has found some of her greatest inspiration in long-overlooked storage spaces in natural history museums across the world and in the hills and the shacks of a 13-acre junkyard located in an otherwise picturesque Maine coastal town. Purcell’s six decades of work, while brilliantly varied and resistant to easy classification, speaks eloquently to the artist’s persistent interrogation of the ways in which humanity has and continues to attempt, often fruitlessly, to understand the world around it. The barriers of logic and reason that we erect to make order out of chaos are exposed as porous and unreliable in Purcell’s work, an oeuvre that encourages its viewers to dwell in the nebulous spaces in between, to see things, in the words of Minor White, ”not only for what they are but for what else they are.”
This exhibition, Purcell’s first retrospective, will reflect the breadth of the artist’s career from the late 1960s to the current day and will include over 150 of the artist’s photographs, assemblages, collages, and installations. A pioneer of fine art color photography and an inspiration to a generation of artists from Mark Dion to Sally Mann, Purcell’s constant evolution and interest in exploring the precariousness of existence as expressed through the ways in which time haunts the living and renders the recognizable unrecognizable, positions the artist as one of our most powerful interpreters of the human condition.
A full-color catalogue published in collaboration with Rizzoli Electa will accompany this exhibition with texts by Errol Morris, Professor Christoph Irmscher, Belinda Rathbone, and Gordon Wilkins, the Addison’s Robert M. Walker Associate Curator of American Art and curator of the exhibition.
Generous support for this exhibition has been provided by the Sidney R. Knafel Fund, Eric (PA ‘66) and Nanny Almquist, and the Artist's Resource Trust.