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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI Fine Arts Center Galleries -TABLEAUX VIVANTS: Photographs by Jane Calvin

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March 24-May 10, 2005


KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 16, 2005 -- Chicago artist Jane Calvin’s visually and intellectually complex color photographs are exciting on many levels. Procedurally they are the result of interpreting elaborate room-sized assemblages of 3-dimensional found objects. Additionally, text and figurative elements are densely interwoven with the assemblages by means of vivid slide projections created by the artist. Everything is constituted for the sole purpose of being photographed.

Calvin lovingly constructs these intriguing color photographs in her studio by straight shooting of the assemblages and projections; she does not manipulate them in a computer. Her results are all the more impressive and mesmerizing.

Jane Calvin stresses that, “I make photographs, I don’t take them,” and in so stating she follows in the path of many Dada and Surrealist precursors. One recollects, for example, German Kurt Schwitters’ famous Merzbau or Junk House (1923 and following), or Joseph Cornell’s metaphorically vast but physically modestly scaled, even private sculptural interiors of boxes (1930s and following). In her use of projected imagery within and upon the setup of her photographs, Calvin gestures toward earlier 20th century American surrealist photographer Man Ray’s photographic work, one example of which is Space Writing (Self-Portrait) acquired last year by the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Calvin’s more recent kindred spirit - although comparatively minimalist in nature and junior chronologically - is Sandy Skoglund. The latter’s photographed installations are a hybrid of unnatural, spectral, coloration and suspended narrative.

The University of Rhode Island exhibition is entitled TABLEAUX VIVANTS, literally translated as Living Pictures. This reference is to costumed presentations of the 19th and early 20th century, an entertainment whereby groups of people would dress in historical costume and pose themselves, with explanatory song accompaniment, after famous works of art. The simultaneous “live” and referential nature of this practice strangely pre-figures the sensations that emerge from experiencing Calvin’s own photographic work which is likewise “frozen, framed, lighted” (to borrow a Roland Barthes comment on the writings of the Marquis de Sade that Barthes also saw as a species of tableaux).

Calvin uses diverse popular sources for her found images and words—romance novels, fiction, children’s books, detective and pulp fiction. But the dense, imaginary space that she manipulates, seemingly a function of the personas of selected protagonists, alludes to the staged tableaux of earlier periods. The straddling physical/pictorial character of this photography intentionally “ruptures one’s normal way of seeing…so that multiple associations are set up” as the artist explained her intentions in an in-depth 2002 interview for an exhibition appropriately entitled “Discontinuum.”

As she has further stated, her photographs embrace the look and feeling of fragmentation, layering and elliptical and digressive images and ideas. Jane Calvin is deeply engaged in evocatively uniting her found texts with found images, encouraging viewers along toward a multiply stimulating, multiply referential understanding. Indeed, many critics see her highly associative, emotionally charged works as Freudian filled images, vessels of some traumatic memory, impulse or fantasy.

Daughter of an avid art collector father, Jane Calvin attended classes at the Art Institute as a child, and eventually returned there for her MFA, in 1982. But first she graduated with a degree in Art History from Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania in 1959 and was a private print dealer before training as a fine art photographer. Major one-person exhibitions in recent years include her traveling exhibition organized by Peter F. Spooner, Tweed Museum of Art (University of Minnesota, Duluth, 2002). Calvin has shown her work across the USA and soon in China.

The University of Rhode Island exhibition - an intensive and stimulating selection - will feature nearly 20 photographic works made in the last several years. It is Jane Calvin’s first exhibition in Rhode Island.

HOURS of the Photography Gallery are Tuesday – Friday, 12 noon – 4 pm
& Saturday – Sunday, 1 – 4 pm


All programs of the Fine Arts Center Galleries are
open to the public without charge.