Rosamond Purcell, Wall, 1990s

Rosamond Purcell: Nature Stands Aside

Sep. 1, 2022 to
Dec. 31, 2022
This exhibition, Purcell’s first retrospective, reflects the breadth of the artist’s career from the late 1960s to the current day and includes over 150 of the artist’s photographs, assemblages, collages, and installations.

“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, reflects 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. 

Generous support for this exhibition has been provided by the Sidney R. Knafel Fund, Eric (PA ‘66) and Nanny Almquist, William M. Drake, Jr. (PA ’50) and JoAnn Carney Drake, and the Artist’s Resource Trust.

Related Exhibition materials

Press Release

First Retrospective of Photographer and Conceptual Artist Rosamond Purcell Opens at Addison Gallery of American Art this September

Selected Exhibition Text

Read a selection of the the wall text from the exhibition 

Exhibition Catalogue

A full-color catalogue published in collaboration with Rizzoli Electa accompanies this exhibition and includes texts by Errol Morris, Professor Christoph Irmscher, Belinda Rathbone, and Gordon Wilkins, the Addison’s Robert M. Walker Curator of American Art and curator of the exhibition


In the News

Musee Magazine (online), Art Out: Rare & Sold Out Photographs, Rosamond Purcell, and Modern Women, 12/23/22

Open Studio with Jared Bowen, Rosamond Purcell pushes the boundaries of photography and imagination by Jared Bowen, 12/12/22

New York Times, The Women Behind the Camera by Lucy Sante, 12/2/22

Northshore Magazine, Arts Activities Around the North Shore This Fall by Natalie Gale, 11/9/22

What Will You Remember? Evolution Versus Revolution by Suzanne Révy and Elin Spring, 11/9/22

All Arts, Open Studio with Jared Bowen: Alison Croney Moses, Eli Brown, and more by Jared Bowen, 10/21/22

WGBH Radio, Jared Bowen on Morning Edition, 10/20/22

The Modern Art Notes Podcast, Barbara Chase-Riboud and Rosamond Purcell by Tyler Green, 9/29/22

photograph magazine, Rosamond Purcell’s Cabinet of Curiosities by Lyle Rexer, 9/29/22

Salem News, For Rosamond Purcell, ‘Nature Stands Aside’, 9/16/22

Boston Globe, Photo-conjuror meets photojournalist at the Addison Gallery by Mark Feeney, 9/13/22

LiveAuctioneers, Rosamond Purcell career-spanning exhibition on view at Addison Gallery, 9/8/22

Bookforum, Artful Volumes, Sep/Oct/Nov 2022, 9/6/22

Installation Views

Virtual Tour

Virtual Tour by Dongcheng Han

Addison Artist Council logo

Bartlett H. Hayes Prize Recipients


Reggie Burrows Hodges

Exhibition | Residency | Publication | Acquisition


Tommy Kha

Exhibition | Residency | Publication | Acquisition