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Catherine Wagner: Archaeology in Reverse

Not on view
9/8/2018 - 12/9/2018
Organizing institution: Mills College Art Museum

Archæology in Reverse presents a series of new, immersive site-specific installations and photographs developed by Catherine Wagner, Nancy Cook Chair of Photography at Mills College. Working with architecture practice modem (Nicholas de Monchaux and Kathryn Moll). Archæology in Reverse highlights the extraordinary architectural space of the Museum through sculptural installations, site-specific interventions, photographs and documentation of site-specific choreography by Molissa Fenley realized on video by Michael Mersereau. The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color publication. Focused on the intellectual and physical frame of the art museum, Catherine Wagner’s ambitious project exposes normally unseen corners of Mills College Art Museum (MCAM). Wagner’s previous photographic and public art works reveal architecture as a source of social construction, particularly in museums where architecture frames and guides how visitors see and interact with objects that inhabit the space. Refocusing the attention and experience of the viewer, Archæology in Reverse explores the museum as a cultural, social, and experiential lens.

As a photographer long interested in the phenomenon of light, Wagner examines the possibilities of physically transforming the museum’s ceiling and gallery walls into a series of apertures. Her project reveals the Museum’s usually hidden, glass-roofed skylight enclosure with the use of large periscopes that both project and reflect elements within the ceiling. Penetrating the perimeter of the walls of the gallery, Wagner reveals previously covered windows and doorways, including a defunct loading dock entrance, bridging interior and exterior space. The addition of colored acrylic accentuates the inherent geometry of these spaces, focusing the eye and creating order within the chaotic layers of architectural history embedded in the building. The exhibition also includes a new series of photographs that document the palimpsest of history embedded in various structures of the museum, from abandoned materials and retrofitted repairs, to signs of on-going activity and use in the gallery.

For over forty years Wagner, has challenged traditional ways of viewing by collapsing temporal boundaries, museum conventions, display methods, and how we understand the past and share knowledge across time. In many ways, Archaeology in Reverse represents a natural culmination of Wagner’s ideas and practice combining aesthetic and theoretical rigor with a deep awareness of the specifics and history of a site. Above all, this project is intended as an opportunity for the artist to develop interdisciplinary collaborations and generate new ideas around experimentation with materials and space. The design and execution of sculptural elements of the project are in collaboration with modem, led by Bay Area architectural designers Nicholas de Monchaux and Kathryn Moll. In addition, Wagner invited Molissa Fenley, Professor of Dance at Mills, to choreograph site-specific dances in the museum’s rafters and in locations that intersect with the views from the outward looking apertures. At its core, Wagner’s work changes the way we see and examines how institutions relate to their audiences and their communities.


Catherine Wagner
Catherine Wagner is the Nancy Cook Chair of Photography at Mills College, where she has been a professor of studio art since 1979. She has exhibited extensively nationally and internationally, and her work is represented in major collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, and Museum of Fine Art Houston. Her published monographs include American Classroom, Art & Science: Investigating Matter, Cross Sections, and In Situ: Traces of Morandi. She has received major awards, including the Visual Arts Fellowship from the San Jose Museum of Art, a Guggenheim Fellowship, NEA fellowships, and the Rome Prize. Wagner has also created site-specific public artwork for the City of San Francisco, University of California San Francisco Medical School, and the City of Los Angeles. A forty-year survey of her career Place, History, and the Archive was published by Damiani and will be released in Fall 2018, distributed by Thames & Hudson and DAP. Wagner is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome.

modem: Nicholas de Monchaux + Kathryn Moll
modem is an interdisciplinary practice with experience in software, architecture, urban design, and digital fabrication. It uses radical and traditional architectural tools to transform objects, environments, and urban situations in order to strengthen and improve connections between buildings, cities, and ecologies. modem is Kathryn Moll and Nicholas de Monchaux. Kathryn Moll is a registered architect, experienced in sustainable building, education, and game design. Before co-founding modem, Kathryn practiced architecture in Oakland and San Francisco, leading design and construction of net-positive energy buildings and award-winning adaptive-reuse projects. Nicholas de Monchaux, is Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the University of California, Berkeley, and Director of the Berkeley Center for New Media. He is the author of Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo (2011), a critical history of the Apollo A7L Spacesuit; Local Code: 3,659 Proposals about Data, Design and the Nature of Cities (2016); and, in-progress, Rebel Plans: Apple, Star Wars and Architecture at Bay, about design, power, and technology between the Bay Area and the World. He is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome.

Molissa Fenley
Molissa Fenley is a choreographer, performer, and teacher of contemporary dance. She founded her company in 1977 and has created over 80 dance works. Her work has been commissioned by the American Dance Festival, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Dia Art Foundation, Jacob’s Pillow, The Joyce Theater, and Lincoln Center. She has received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, and she is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. Fenley graduated from Mills College in 1975 with a BA in Dance, where she is now the Danforth Professor of Dance.

Catherine Wagner: Archæology in Reverse is supported through the generosity of the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation. The publication is supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.


Opening Reception: Archaeology in Reverse
Saturday, September 8, 2018
5:00-7:00 PM
Join us to celebrate the opening of an exhibition featuring new work by Catherine Wagner, Nancy Cook Chair of Photography at Mills College. Working with architecture practice modem (Nicholas de Monchaux and Kathryn Moll), Archaeology in Reverse highlights the extraordinary architectural space of the Museum through sculptural installations, site-specific interventions, photographs and documentation of site-specific choreography by Molissa Fenley and videographer Michael Mersereau.

Laws of Reflection: How Architecture Becomes Aperture
Thursday, September 27, 2018
7-8pm (reception from 6:30-7:00pm), Art Museum
Aebhric Coleman, Director of the Kramlich Collection, will discuss the intersections of photography and architectural design with Catherine Wagner and architectural practice modem (Nicholas de Monchaux + Kathryn Moll). The artist and modem will share the impetus for their collaboration on Archæology in Reverse and how the execution of the project evolved through reflections on the museum’s material history and role as a container of knowledge, similar to the camera.

Artist Talk: Catherine Wagner
Wednesday, October 10, 2018, 7-9pm, Danforth Lecture Hall
Catherine Wagner will revisit 40 years of her work as a photographer mining the built environment—urban transit structures, laboratories, museums, theme parks—for evidence of how cultures and histories are represented by material spaces and artifacts. Through photography Wagner categorizes these constructions of knowledge into visual typologies—a process she describes as ‘archaeology in reverse.’

Exhibition Images (17)

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