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On Exhibit: Seeing stars (and planets) at the Tang Teaching Museum

Display of photos from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, on view at the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College. 
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Display of photos from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, on view at the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College. 

The latest exhibit to open at the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College invites viewers to step into space.

With an absorbing display of photos from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, along with 1800s-era prints of constellations and contemporary works inspired by the cosmos, it’s a trip well worth taking.

Called “Parallax: Framing the Cosmos,” the exhibit uses outer space as a foundation to explore that which is universal and that which is particular. The term parallax refers to the way an object can appear to change position when viewed from different points. At the Tang, it also references the idea that no two cultures or people share the same “universal” views.

When stepping into the Wachenheim Gallery, it’s hard to miss the planet that is suspended from the ceiling at eye level. Wrapped around the silvery globe are the dark silhouettes of trees, stretching out of the dark bottom half of the piece. Made by Russell Crotty and titled “Milky Way Over Ponderosas,” it’s a fitting introduction to the show.

Further along, there’s a collection of blue and white cyanotypes depicting solar eclipses, displayed in a wooden box, with the phrase “The Dismantled Sun,” etched into a mirror at the back of the box. The small prints, created by Dario Robleto, are based on astronomers’ historical drawings of solar eclipses and are at once charming and melancholic.

“. . . I asked myself, was it possible for the sun to reflect on its own youth? . . . I wanted to use the current-day energy of the sun to let it burn an image of itself from centuries ago into paper. In this way, both the past and present are in the images,” Robleto writes in an artist statement.

At the heart of the exhibit, is a towering wall of press photographs from NASA spanning from 1959 to 2002. There are shots of astronauts suited up, politicians gathered and distant views of Earth and the moon.

Some of the shots are breathtaking, including those that show the swirling blue, green and white Earth, or one that shows parachuters just about to land in a piercing blue ocean, the distant skyline blending in with the water.

However, the collective effect of the photographs isn’t simply awe. They’re a reminder of the ripple effects of the United States’ push to be the first to explore (and in some instances conquer) outer space under the guise that it’s all on behalf of “all of mankind.” It’s also a reminder that space exploration doesn’t only impact the scientific community but the political one as well and the narratives told about the U.S.

Not too far away from the NASA photos are celestial charts that date back to the early 1900s and reflect the work of European astronomers Johann Palisa and Max Wolf, who helped develop the first photographic star atlas.

“Parallax” also includes textile work, documentary photography and painting, many of which are recent acquisitions of the Tang’s. It’s on view into next year (June 19, 2023, to be exact) but go today at noon and you’ll get a curator’s tour with Rebecca McNamara.
Other exhibitions on view at the museum include “Where Words Falter: Art and Empathy,” and “Lauren Kelley: Location Scouting.”

Hosting premiere performances by playwrights

Next Thursday, Oct. 27, the museum will host premiere performances of newly commissioned works-in-progress by playwrights Lanxing Fu, Julia May Jonas, and Andrew Rincón in response to “Where Words Falter.”

The three new works will be performed at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Skidmore College students from the Theater Department will perform under the direction of Skidmore faculty members Artist-in-Residence Teisha Duncan, Visiting Assistant Professor Ji Won Jeon and Lecturer of Dance Hettie Barnhill.

The exhibit presents photography, painting, textile and moving image from the Tang collection to explore ways art can support empathic feeling. The collaboration between the Tang and Skidmore’s Theater Department is organized by Tang Associate Curator Rebecca McNamara, the exhibition curator, and Lisa Jackson-Schebetta, associate professor and chair of the Theater Department.

“When Rebecca first told me about the exhibition and how it explores ideas of empathy, image, and bodily experience, I was immediately inspired because theater and performance also grapple with these complicated aspects of meaning-making,” Jackson-Schebetta said. “I am thrilled to be able to invite such esteemed playwrights to work with our students and faculty to present something new, surrounded by the stunning, thought-provoking work in the exhibition. This has been a wonderful opportunity for learning and exploring together, an opportunity we now extend to the broader community.”

The performances are free to attend. Reservations are not required. Masks are optional. For more information visit tang.skidmore.edu.

Categories: Art, Life and Arts, Life and Arts

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