Clues to Civilization
July 8-August 14, 2021
Jessica Silverman is pleased to announce Catherine Wagner: Clues to Civilization, an expansive survey of photographs by the artist created from 1982-2014 that runs from July 9 to August 14, 2021. The exhibition comprises four series of works from Wagner’s career: American Classroom, Realism and Illusion, Reparations and Rome Works. Spanning over three decades, each of the series are fortified by a rigorous examination of knowledge creation and transference, reckoning with collective historical foundations and the concept of the body politic. Working as a conceptual artist through the medium of photography, Wagner places the enduring crisis of the human knowledge order front and center, using the inanimate to reconfigure dominant narratives and systems of thought. This is her first solo exhibition with Jessica Silverman.
Beginning in the early 1980s and first exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts,
Houston, the American Classroom series includes black-and-white photographs
of American schools and learning environments. The works are evacuated of
human subjects and depict empty classrooms, written text left on chalkboards,
or a poignant creative writing story displayed on an early computer; objects are
personified and haunt the image-plane, showing residues of human activity.
Realism and Illusion from 1995 is a subversive analysis of Disney theme parks in
Tokyo, Orlando, Paris, and Anaheim. Works in this series such as Gendered House
and Southern California Landscape closely examine the illusory nature of built
environments and the coercive, constricting nature of archetypes, particularly
when they originate from a singular gaze driven by American culture.
Two works included in the exhibition from Wagner’s Reparations series traverse
the history of the prosthetic splint, responding directly to the circulation of
images of war and violence that condition the contemporary present. Moving
away from essentializing images of human pain, the artist instead photographs
splints and prosthetics from throughout history to show the body as both a
resilient and political instrument.
The most recent series in the exhibition from 2014, Rome Works, are photographs
of galleries and sculptures being conserved and restored at historical institutions
such as the Musei Capitolini and Palazzo Altemps. Works such as Artemis/Diana
re-contextualize Classical sculpture to puncture conventional narratives of icons.
In the photo, a sculpture of the Greek goddess Artemis’ torso is suspended in an
electric blue strap, complicating the God of the hunt’s mythological legacy as a
woman who could not be tied down.