Demetrius Oliver, Affinity Atlas

Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, Clinton, NY
October 6, 2012 – April 7, 2013

The Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, which opens to the public on October 6, will inaugurate its new Machado and Silvetti-designed building with a special exhibition titled Affinity Atlas. Reflecting the museum’s mission of object-based learning and interdisciplinary visual teaching, the exhibition will bring together new and iconic works of art and diverse media to suggest ways that visual art can connect and expand on ideas across numerous disciplines.

Affinity Atlas’s curatorial framework draws inspiration from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Wunderkammers—or cabinets of curiosities—and the pioneering work of art historian Aby Warburg. Forgoing the customary art historical narrative, Warburg instead chose to illuminate his scholarly research through a constellation of some two thousand images to map out antiquity’s afterlife in imagery from the Renaissance to the twentieth century. He called the effort a “picture atlas.”

Guided by Warburg’s impulse to collect and generate connections, Affinity Atlas sets up a series of montages and shifting perspectives using artworks from Hamilton College’s holdings, as well as recent pieces on loan by a range of international contemporary artists. Affinity Atlas builds on the strengths and surprises of Hamilton’s collections, which suggest certain areas or themes for exploration, including the Romantic landscape, early Modernist abstraction, and the natural world—animal, mineral, and vegetable.

One such grouping probes the mysteries of the cosmos, juxtaposing nineteenth-century scientific prints of solar flares by Isaac Hollister Hall with Demetrius Oliver’s contemporary orrery, an abstract, three-dimensional model of the solar system made from hanging umbrella spokes and studio scraps.

A predecessor to the planetarium, an orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system used to represent the relative position and motions of the sun, moon, and planets. Oliver’s radial sculptures are suspended in space, free from a sequence or narrative structure. The spokes of each umbrella carry various materials collected by the artist from his studio and home. The planetary, star-like shape of his sculptures instills an ethereality, allowing the everyday to veer towards the transcendental. With materials levitating in space, a centralized light bulb captures the orrery’s circular motion through cast shadows projected on the ceiling. Oliver’s orrery is an attempt to map out the minutia in his studio as well as provide a schema of the elements that make up the firmament. Oliver’s studio space is filled with the debris of past ideas, constantly in flux and indicative of the creative potential around us. Out of view and accompanying the sculptures are large-scale drawings that mimic photographic processes and allude to map making. Orrery continues Oliver’s contemplation of nature as both a source of wonder and speculation, and the tools we use to make sense of the night sky.

Affinity Atlas opens on October 6, 2012 and runs through April 7, 2013. The exhibition is organized by guest curator Ian Berry, Associate Director and Malloy Curator at the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College. A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition in late 2012 and will feature texts on the artists, as well as views of the new museum and the exhibition.

Wellin Museum of Art
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