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The Art of Being Alone Virtual Exhibition curated by Leah Zuberer ('21)

As an extension of the Reynolda House Museum of American Art’s exhibition The Uncertainty of the Times, Wake Forest University Art Collections presents, The Art of Being Alone. This exhibition aims to explore further feelings and realities of isolation, especially the circumstances that arise as we find ourselves, often, alone these days. While The Uncertainty of the Times exposes the strange and eerie qualities of these tumultuous times through social relationships and our own positionally within the world, The Art of Being Alone steps away from the outside world as we explore the world within ourselves and our own personal spaces.

Isolation, quarantine, and social distancing have become all too familiar in our vernacular these days and we as individuals have been forced to confront and comfort ourselves during these lonely times. From not leaving your bedroom for weeks, to braving the public for brief outings, we have traded our ability to socialize with our ability to stay a safe and far distance from one another.

Each person has experienced this differently; some people find solace and peace in their own company while others have found themselves void of excitement and left craving human touch. Through works by artists such as Gianni Cestari, Kiki Smith, Jim Dine, and Maud Gatewood, this exhibition brings together all of those feelings of loneliness and otherness into one space. Comparing good and bad experiences, feelings of sadness with feelings of relief, alongside one another in this virtual exhibition aims to expand one’s idea of isolation.

Maybe you, the viewer yourself, are alone right now while coming across this exhibition, and I challenge you to confront each figure presented. Do you feel a sense of longing or despair? Do you feel a deep connection to the gloom of Gianni Cestari or an overall untroubled calm such as Philip Pearlstein depicts? However this period of our lives has defined and changed what isolation is to you, this exhibition provides a breadth of works for each individual to relate with and grow their own personal belief of seclusion.

Aquarium = Blue, Sebastiaan Bremer, 2006, etching on digital print

Sebastiaan Bremer, Dutch (born 1970)

Aquarium = Blue, Sebastiaan Bremer, 2006, etching on digital print

Bremer begins his work with photographs he has taken on his own and through various physical manipulations he alters the image. In this work, Bremer has etched abstract and ghostly lines over the image of a young boy in a pool. Through this physical alteration of a moment, Bremer has allowed us to interact and insert ourselves into that moment. This scene feels like a memory and the audience is in the act of reminiscing on a fond moment, yet each time we think back to the memory it is altered and expanded further in our minds. A quiet moment of thought, isolation, and serene blues make us imagine and possibly become nostalgic of the simpler times – back when swimming alone was a choice for contemplation and not a health requirement.

© Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

Untitled (no. 1), Gianni Cestari, 2018, ink on paper

Gianni Cestari, Italian (born 1946)

Untitled (no. 1), Gianni Cestari, 2018, ink on paper

Gianni Cestari’s series is an interpretation of Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel Invisible Cities. This novel explores the imagination and awe of travel as it recounts descriptions of cities Marco Polo visited in the 13th century in a conversation with the emperor Kublai Khan. Instead of taking a direct interpretation of the novel, Cestari’s work takes form as a deeply contemplative and ambiguously crafted portrait. This work exhibits relatively subdued colors, with browns and grays dominating the scene while pale yellows and deep blue hues punctuate the image. In an almost voyeuristic manner, a face sits in a cloud-like formation in the foreground of the work and is juxtaposed by the distant building in the background. Not only does this work exhibit a physical isolation from the city and its people, but a personal one. Today, we have othered ourselves from each other and in turn have nothing but a glimmer of society in the back of our minds now.

© Copyright retained by artist

Warm Drypoint Robe, Jim Dine, 1976, drypoint on paper

Jim Dine, American (born 1935)

Warm Drypoint Robe, Jim Dine, 1976, drypoint on paper

Jim Dine began creating bathrobes in the 1960s and for five decades he has continued this practice after being initially inspired by an advertisement he saw in 1963. Though Dine himself never owned a bathrobe, he felt a deep connection to this advertisement, even claiming he thought the ad looked like him -- viewing the robes themselves as self-portraits. Without a body present, this robe floats on the paper and transforms a typically mundane object into something alluring. In a time like today, many of us go all day without leaving our pajamas, and Drypoint Robe offers a tangible connection between all of us – each with the ability to place ourselves in the composition and embody the mindset of the robe.

© Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

Dream World, J.W Edwards, 1963, oil on canvas

J. W. Edwards, American (1919-2014)

Dream World, J.W Edwards, 1963, oil on canvas

In this painting by J.W. Edwards, a young boy is depicted straddling two sides of the canvas as he leans toward the left-hand side. Aptly named Dream World, this painting is shrouded in muted greys, tans, and blues and only divided in composition by the presence of the boy. He is seen with closed eyes and a relaxed posture as if he is floating and gliding effortlessly through space. Many of us these days only find escape in our dreams, perhaps, because it’s the one time we can still escape our lives among the chaos.

© Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

Winter Walk, Maud Gatewood, 1984, ink on paper

Maud Gatewood, American (1934-2004)

Winter Walk, Maud Gatewood, 1984, ink on paper

Maud Gatewood, a North Carolina native, spent her life carefully observing those around her. Described as having a “keen eye” by life-long friends, nothing escaped the curiosity of Gatewood. In rather mundane settings, Gatewood manages to encapsulate the simplicity of everyday moments without disrupting the scene with her presence. In this work titled Winter Walk, Gatewood has captured a scene of a woman from behind as she walks up some stairs, with nothing but her backside, hair, earmuffs, and the echo of her breath to be seen. In a scene that has become too familiar to us these days, Gatewood paints this moment of seclusion with the utmost craft and consideration.

© Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

Songs of Sentient Beings #1600, Bill Jacobson, 1995, silver print photograph

Bill Jacobson, American (born 1955)

Songs of Sentient Beings #1600, Bill Jacobson, 1995, silver print photograph

Bill Jacobson created a series of portraits that features his subjects out-of-focus which elicited strong emotional, political, and haunting feelings that resonated with not only the AIDS crisis of the 1990s but overall feelings of loss and absence. There is a physical distance that is set between the subject and viewer when an image is blurred as such. We no longer can make out distinct features such as freckles, smile lines, or eye color, and instead, we are forced to decipher an identity from just the broad strokes. Now more than ever we are further from one another and deeper inside our own minds.

© Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

Spring Equinox, Gordon Mahy, 1972, screenprint on paper

Gordon Mahy, American (1932-1998)

Spring Equinox, Gordon Mahy, 1972, screenprint on paper

Gordon Mahy depicts a scene that has become deeply relatable to us in the last year. A neon-bright yellow and green scene is seen through segmented, white windowpanes. At the top of the screen-print is a contrasting deep orange rectangle that mirrors the composition of the green rectangle in the center of the image. A Spring equinox marks the beginning of Spring – typically a time of rebirth and blooming nature, yet today we view these wonderous scenes from our window; much like what is depicted here. The neon yellow shines through the white panes and draws us, the viewer, to the outside world, yet we are coldly reminded by the white linear lines that we are to remain indoors and just slightly out of reach.

© Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

Nude on Striped Hammock, Philip Pearlstein, 1974, aquatint etching on paper

Philip Pearlstein, American (born 1924)

Nude on Striped Hammock, Philip Pearlstein, 1974, aquatint etching on paper

Philip Pearlstein depicts his subjects with a virtually clinical hand. Rather than put forward a narrative or emotion onto his subject, Pearlstein allows the viewer an intimate look inside the world of his subjects. At this moment we can see a woman in the nude as her neutral-toned skin blends in with the pale brown background color of this work, yet she is starkly contrasted by her bright, striped hammock. Though we cannot directly see her face, her posture appears calm and almost unaware of the artist etching her. It’s these deep moments of isolation and self-reflection that we as an audience are uniquely adept to relate to, given our current circumstances. It’s these deep moments of isolation and self-reflection that we as an audience are uniquely adept to relate to, given our current circumstances. Lost in thought and in total isolation, one might lounge nude in a space much like this one and be left to truly contemplate the relationship we hold with ourselves.

© Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

My Blue Lake, Kiki Smith, 1995, photogravure with lithograph

Kiki Smith, American (born 1954)

My Blue Lake, Kiki Smith, 1995, photogravure with lithograph

Kiki Smith has turned her body into a natural landscape with this hand-colored photogravure and lithograph. Her face and torso have become more akin to topographical features than human ones and through this distortion, she is forcing the viewer to question how they view not just their own body, but their body in relation to the natural landscape. Being alone and indoors most days has led each of us, at varying degrees, to observe and critique our own bodies more severely. Smith remains in dialogue with this constant struggle and especially the struggles that women confront in the face of criticism from industries, other individuals, and themselves.

© Copyright retained by artist or artist’s representative.

The Art of Being Alone was curated by Leah Zuberer ('21).