In the Eye of the Beholder:
An Artistic Challenge to Conventional Human Perspectives

Rodney Graham, Welsh Oaks #5, 1998, photograph


On January 31st, 2007, I attended the exhibit “Video and Photography from Western Bridge” at the Washington State University Museum of Art. When I first walked into the gallery, I immediately felt a sense of melancholy and serenity. Suddenly, I had the urge to speak in a whisper and move slowly throughout the spacious room. The atmosphere of the exhibit was very tranquil, with black and white photographs displayed on the white walls, a shiny wooden floor, and dimmed lights.

The first artwork in the entryway of the into the gallery was a huge black and white photograph by Rodney Graham, titled “Welsh Oaks #5.” It is a beautiful photo of an oak tree with sprawling branches and hanging leaves, but what it most intriguing about the photograph is that it is upside-down. I believe that this is a very appropriate artwork to display at the entryway of the exhibit because it sets the serene tone of the gallery and starts you thinking about perspective, which I believe was the main theme of the exhibit.

After contemplating this upside-down perspective for a couple moments, I moved to the wall directly behind me to view a series of six photographs, titled “Monologue, 2000” by Amy Adler. What is so unique about this set of photographs is that they are photos of self-portraits of the artist. The drawings are of a girl reading a book, and it is very unique because the face is completely expressionless and the book is blank. The lines of the drawings are very thick and “scratchy,” which I did not find particularly aesthetically pleasing; however, I did like the symmetry that Adler presented with her six self-portrait drawings/photographs.

On the wall to the right were two enormous colored photographs of a man sitting on a rock ledge with a fishing pole. The photograph “Fishing on a Jetty” by Rodney Graham was actually one photo, split into two frames, and the subject was Graham himself. It is supposed to be a representation of Cary Grant in the film To Catch a Thief, which is about a deceptive man who is constantly changing his identity. I have not seen the movie, but I can still appreciate how Graham is again portraying the idea of perspective and challenging his viewer to reflect on his or her perception of identity.

Next, stretched across the back wall of the gallery was a series of thirty-two photographs, usually sepia-toned or darkly colored, depicting the photographer’s wife and her three sisters. “The Brown Sisters” by Nicolas Nixon tells the story of the sisters over 32 years, one photograph per year. I loved this display. The women are not smiling, yet their eyes and faces are full of expression and you can seemingly track their lives through the photos. Their clothes, hairstyles, and complexions change and there are times of sadness, when one is pregnant, and even one with a cell phone. This display was incredibly interesting to me and I felt as if I could have studied Nixon’s photos for hours, while continually gaining new perspectives on the sisters and their lives.

Other artworks at the exhibit included Timothy Hutchings’ film “The Arsenal at Danzig and Other Views,” Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled #323,” as well as “Descent” and “Descent HQ5” by Catherine Yass. I did not find these works to be particularly engaging and especially disliked Yass’ artworks. While both the film and photograph depict interesting perspectives, they made me feel nauseated and disoriented (precisely her intent?). These artworks continued with the exhibit’s overall theme of challenging classic perceptions; however, they did it in a more abstract form of art, which is not as appealing to me as the other artworks.

The exhibit of modern art was very intriguing and thought provoking. As mentioned, I believe the main theme of the exhibit was human perspective and the idea of challenging conventional perceptions, such as a tree being upside-down. I appreciated more the artworks that were realistic and that were not trying to hide the message of the work, such as “The Brown Sisters.” However, the overall atmosphere of the exhibit was very pragmatic and engaging. It was a diverse display of artistic talent that communicated in different manners to each viewer, but, on the whole, it was very enjoyable.



By Kasey Vargo

Major: Biochemistry
Expected Graduation: May 2008
Hometown: Conrad, MT

I have always enjoyed writing, but my science major does not allow me to express my literary side very often. This class enables me to explore the artistic aspects of my brain. I wrote this essay after attending an exhibit and I really wanted to portray the atmosphere and feelings I experienced while viewing the artworks, whether that is curiosity, delight, or nausea.