Exhibiting Signs of Age Shows Contemporary Wrinkle in Art

By Kleyman, Paul | Aging Today, November/December 2003 | Go to article overview

Exhibiting Signs of Age Shows Contemporary Wrinkle in Art


Kleyman, Paul, Aging Today


The 24-hour clock is meticulously and firmly drawn in red ballpoint ink on a sheet of music notation paper, the hands showing 2:10. Penciled in at the bottom of the page in the sure hand of 91-year-old conceptual artist and sculptor Louise Bourgeois are these words:

To forgive in order to forget

I do not want to relive the past.

I want to experience the present

Restoration.

Reparation.

Reconciliation.

The untitled piece from 2002 is among the first one meets in Exhibiting Signs of Age, a compact, new and smartly curated exhibition of work by 11 artists at the Berkeley Art Museum on the University of California (U.C. Berkeley) campus through Jan. 18, 2004. The images, which will travel to the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine, for exhibition from Feb. 12-March 28, 2004, also can be viewed online. The works include a wide range of approaches to modern art from pastel and charcoal drawings by the late George Segal that present richly textured portraits of age, to a series of images and text by documentary photographer-and-writer team Ed Kashi and Julie Winokur, authors of Aging in America: The Years Ahead (New York City: Power-House Books, 2003. See Aging Today, September-October 2003, for Winokur's article on this seven-year project.).

The exhibit's cocurators note that the artists represented in the show "reach varied insights into how aging is perceived and experienced." The curators are Elizabeth Dungan, a postdoctoral fellow at U.C. Berkeley's Center for Medicine, the Humanities and Law, and Sharon Corwin, Lunder Curator of American Art at the Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine. In their joint statement, they observe, "Often emphasizing ambiguity and indecipherability, they [the artists] invite us to explore the uncertainties inherent in the aging process."

Nine of the artists use photography in a variety of approaches, from documentary to conceptual. A now-classic image in American photography that is included in the exhibit is the 1958 self-portrait of photographer Imogen Cunningham. Her liminal figure, crowned with white hair and cloaked in black, stares back at the viewer-and herself-from a slim mirrored plane in a store window. Cunningham, suggest Dungan and Corwin, creates "a striking metaphor for the seeming invisibility or misrecognition that older people can often experience." The San Francisco photographer, born in 1883, was also an adherent to the truthfulness of the open aperture, and allowed her social invisibility to work for her as she unimposingly focused her exacting lens on many subjects. In Cunningham's final work, After 90, published a year after her death in 1976 and represented in Exhibiting Signs of Age, she satisfied her fascination with the oldest age by sharpening her lens not on loneliness and decrepitude but on the completeness, the fulfillment of longevity.

The self-portrait of Chuck Close uses the 19th century technique of the daguerreotype. The closely cropped headshot is starkly detailed at the forefront, especially in the piercing eyes that could stare at the viewer from across the room-or from a battlefield of the Civil War. But the image also loses focus behind the features in a timeless blur. Close said of this photograph, "It's all about my turning 60."

Then there is the unsettling beauty of the photo-portrait series by John Coplans, who died earlier this year. …

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