Wisconsin Academy: New Watrous Gallery exhibition examines how we see art — and the world

Contact: Jason A. Smith, communications director

Jody Clowes, exhibitions manager / 608-265-2517

MADISON—About Seeing, an art exhibition that explores the fascinating differences in how we see, opens on August 31, 2012, at the Wisconsin Academy’s James Watrous Gallery on the 3rd floor of Overture Center for the Arts in Madison. Exhibition details and related events are as follows:

Exhibition title: About Seeing

Exhibition dates: August 31–October 14, 2012

Opening reception (free and open to the public): Opening reception Sunday, September 9, 2–5:00 pm, with a talk by visual communications specialist Shiela Reaves* at 2:30 pm entitled Understanding the Art of Vision. Members of the McPherson Eye Research Institute (MERI) will also be present to help interpret the interactive portions of the exhibition.

Related events (free and open to the public):

Thursday, September 20, 5:30-6:45 pm

Seeing in Depth, a lecture by neuroscientist Christopher Tyler of San Francisco’s Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute. Hosted by MERI at UW–Madison’s Health Sciences Learning Center, Rm. 1325, 750 Highland Ave, Madison WI 53792. Dr. Tyler will discuss the science of depth perception and Leonardo da Vinci’s pioneering work in understanding perspective.

Saturday, September 29, 3-4:30 pm

Color: More than Meets the Eye, a gallery talk and demonstration with chemist Rodney Schreiner.* Held in conjunction with the Wisconsin Science Festival.

Friday, October 5, 7:00 pm

Gallery talk with artist Tom Linfield in conjunction with MMoCA’s Gallery Night.

Sunday, October 7, 2–3:30 pm

Gallery talk with artist Dan O’Neal and ophthalmologist Barbara Blodi* on the changes in O’Neal’s color perception after he developed macular degeneration, and the “eye-mind” relationship revealed through brain-imaging.

*McPherson Eye Research Institute (MERI) member

Exhibition Details

Through works of art, interactive demonstrations, and a series of public programs, About Seeing considers the physiology of color and depth perception, synesthesia, and the effects of vision loss. Focused in depth on the work of artists Heidi Lasher-Oakes, Dan O’Neal, and Thomas Linfield, the show also includes work from local collections by Chuck Close, Victor Vasarely, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Josef Albers, and Sylvia Mangold, among others.

When asked which of the five senses they most fear losing, most people answer “sight.” Visual artists, particularly, rely on their ability to experience the world through sight. Yet few of us understand the mechanics of vision, and we tend to assume that (barring significant eye disease) all of us are seeing the same thing. But the science of vision and perception reveals a more complicated story. Variations in color and depth perception, significant challenges like face blindness (prosopagnosia),and unusual perceptual abilities such as synesthesia, for example, all create visual experiences that challenge our assumptions about “normal” vision.

To illustrate the variety of visual experience, About Seeing includes works like South African artist Ilka Van Schalkwyk’s book Reading Color, a vivid demonstration of grapheme synesthesia, in which color is involuntarily associated with sound, words, or numbers. Chuck Close, represented by a piece made with paper pulp, has an idiosyncratic approach to portraiture that is strongly influenced by his face blindness. UW chemist and color researcher Rodney Schreiner’s computer simulations illustrate tetrachromatic vision, which encompasses more nuances of color than most of us see. Josef Albers’ seminal book on color perception, Interactions of Color, and artworks by Richard Anuszkiewicz and Victor Vasarely, among others, extend the show’s interpretation of optical illusions and depth perception.

The three artists featured in depth in About Seeing—Dan O’Neal, Heidi Lasher-Oakes, and Tom Linfield—have experienced significant vision loss and used their visual art practice to document or work towards acceptance of their vision changes. The color palette of Dan O’Neal’s realist paintings has drastically changed since he developed macular degeneration in one eye, and he has also created a series of apparent abstractions which represent what he saw through his damaged eye. Heidi Lasher-Oakes kept a visual diary of her deteriorating vision that helped with the diagnosis of AZOOR (Acute Zonal Occult Outer Retinopathy), a rare eye disease, and used sculpture to express her fascination with the eye’s architecture as well as Braille type. Tom Linfield had severe strabismus, or lazy eye, in infancy and now sees through just one eye, which affects his depth perception. As a result, Linfield’s paintings often reflect his unusual sense depth perception. The work of these three artists demonstrates how an individual’s challenges with sight can inform and enrich our view of the world around us.

About Seeing is curated by James Watrous Gallery director Martha Glowacki in partnership with the McPherson Eye Research Institute (MERI) at UW–Madison. MERI’s members include faculty in the sciences, engineering, arts, and humanities working to further vision research and share their knowledge with the public.

This exhibition is made possible through the generous support of Dane Arts, Craft Optics, McPherson Eye Research Institute, Madison Arts Commission, and the Wisconsin Arts Board. The James Watrous Gallery also receives ongoing support from Doubletree Hotel and the membership of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.

About the James Watrous Gallery

The James Watrous Gallery is the premier gallery for Wisconsin visual art. A program of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, the James Watrous Gallery presents works by Wisconsin artists, Wisconsin art and craft history, works owned by Wisconsin collectors, and exhibitions that bridge the sciences, arts, and humanities. Our mission is to promote the visual arts in Wisconsin through quality exhibitions and related educational programs. For gallery hours and more information on exhibiting artists, please visit wisconsinacademy.org/gallery or call 608-265-2500.