June 27, 2019

Catherine Wagner: San José Museum of Art, California - Paradox Observed

Catherine Wagner: Paradox Observed
San José Museum of Art, California
Through August 18, 2019

Catherine Wagner: Paradox Observed is a visual investigation of science to critically examine the systems through which we attempt to decipher the codes and structures of human existence. Catherine Wagner borrows tools and methods of scientific research, using imaging devices like the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine and scanning electron microscope (SEM) as a camera to capture biological matter—the cross section of an onion and the textured surface of a shark’s tooth—with analytical clarity and larger-than-life scale. In the hands of an artist, scientific tools and the data they record evade their perceived objectivity, suggesting a paradoxical conception of the scientific endeavor and its desire and struggle to empirically understand the nature of our being.

“Catherine Wagner encourages the visitor to reexamine the everyday. Pomegranate Wall lends itself to considering her creative process of studying, composing, and creating. At San José Museum of Art, we are committed to fostering awareness of artists’ contributions to society. As we present this exhibition, we invite the public to reflect on Wagner’s examinations of the every day,” S. Sayre Batton, Oshman Executive Director, San José Museum of Art.

Catherine Wagner’s immersive installation Pomegranate Wall is the center of the exhibition, a glowing 8-by-40-foot arc of photographs taken with an MRI machine. Made following a two-year Artist Residency Fellowship SJMA awarded Catherine Wagner in 1997, Pomegranate Wall is the culmination of her exploration into scientific institutions where her photographic documentation and use of technologies like the MRI machine act as a counterpart to scientific research. Imaged in reverse of a camera—from the inside out, rather than the outside in—cross-section scans of pomegranates resemble human cells under a microscope. Monumentally scaled and clinically backlit in Pomegranate Wall, Catherine Wagner’s images possess the authoritative weight of scientific inquiry. But their abstraction presents a paradox: these seemingly pure images are constructed. Though composed of real data, their order and classification—the modes of analyzing visual information—are fundamentally impacted by the observer.

Catherine Wagner was born in 1953 in San Francisco. She received her BA in 1975 and MA in 1981, both from San Francisco State University. She is the recipient of major awards, including the Rome Prize (2013–14), a Guggenheim Fellowship, NEA Fellowships, and the Ferguson Award. Her work is included in major museum collections including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Fine Art, Houston; and the San José Museum of Art.

110 South Market Street, San José, California