May 20, 2024


I Fall For Art

Witness How Photographers Reimagine the Masterpieces of Yesteryears

Amidst the architectural metamorphosis enveloping Princeton University Art Museum, the enigmatic aura of their venerable old masterpieces remains veiled from prying eyes. However, within the clandestine confines of their storage, these treasures serve as the wellspring of inspiration for a novel exhibition that made its grand debut on the 19th of August: “Art About Art: Contemporary Photographers Gaze Upon Old Master Paintings.”

A narrative spun by Ronni Baer, a curator with an astute eye for the profound, as she elucidates her motive, “Amidst the reconstruction, my intention was to stir a sense of recognition among students and the broader community. It’s paramount to remember our exceptional collection of old masterpieces, which, for now, languish in obscurity.”

“Art About Art” unveils an entrancing odyssey where 13 contemporary virtuosos embark on a voyage of reimagining the works of the old masters. This mesmerizing spectacle finds its sanctuary in the Art on Hulfish gallery, a sanctuary born of necessity, as the museum’s grand chambers remain sealed in the grip of construction.

Baer lends her voice to the exhibition’s underlying narrative

This exhibition unveils the enduring vitality that resonates between contemporary artistic souls and the relics of yore. A tapestry of interpretations unfurls, inviting contemplation of the manifold ways in which modern photographers engage with historical opuses, as they delve into the spectrum of emotions evoked by these antiquated strokes of genius, and grapple with timeless questions of identity, which persist with the same fervor today as they did then. All of this, underpinned by audacious forays into the realm of cutting-edge technology.”

Among the visual symphony that graces the walls, we encounter Vik Muniz’s “Double Mona Lisa (Peanut Butter and Jelly),” an inspired homage to Andy Warhol’s iconic 1960s prints. In this culinary odyssey, Muniz resurrects the iconic visage of Leonardo da Vinci not once but twice, meticulously crafting one rendition in creamy peanut butter and another in luscious jelly.

Nina Katchadourian, a maestro of metamorphosis

unfurls a diptych from her intriguing series, “Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style.” With remarkable dexterity, she becomes both the man and woman of a 15th-century Flemish couple, ingeniously employing toilet paper to fashion their distinctive attires in a whimsical, if not absurd, twist.

In a spectacle of creative destruction, Ori Gersht takes center stage, conjuring an arrangement reminiscent of European still-life masterpieces, only to obliterate it with a calculated explosion. His lens captures the precise moment of disintegration, etching it indelibly into the annals of art history.

The exhibition stands as a testament to Princeton’s enduring mission: to ensure that the masterpieces of antiquity are not relegated to mere relics but remain pulsating with life, contemporary in their own epoch, capable of reigniting the flames of inquiry. As elucidated by James Steward, the museum’s sagacious director, “It is our earnest endeavor to illuminate the fact that these timeless creations were, in their moment, vibrant, breathing entities, and as such, still harbor the power to kindle our curiosity.”

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Delving into the depths of the exhibition’s thematic resonance

Baer weaves her insights, “It unearths age-old inquiries, transcending centuries – the conundrums of identity, the transient nature of existence, and the choices we make in our passage through time.” As a striking exemplar, Jeanette May’s “Dot Matrix,” an emissary from her “Tech Vanitas” series, breathes new life into the age-old vanitas paintings of 17th-century Netherlands. Here, the inexorable march toward obsolescence is depicted not through silken tapestries or ornate goblets but rather through the relics of bygone technology cast aside in relentless pursuit of the next innovation.

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Baer, ever the custodian of nuanced contemplation, muses, “This exhibition unfolds as a fount of pedagogical inspiration, a crucible for inquisitive minds to grapple with the enigmas of identity and iconography, and to decipher the raison d’être of artists who converse with the ghosts of the past.” Simultaneously, she artfully crafts a tapestry of amusement and revelation, beckoning all who grace its halls to partake in the diverse spectrum of existential introspection, and perhaps, in the midst of profound reflection, to experience moments of sheer delight and epiphany.

Baer, with a playful glint in her eye, surmises, “Within these hallowed walls, one shall encounter both the solemn and the whimsical, where laughter shall harmonize with contemplation.”