The Harvard University Art Museums present Long Life Cool White: Photographs by Moyra Davey, on view from February 28 through June 30, 2008, at the Fogg Art Museum. This exhibition of 40 photographs marks the ﬁrst survey of Davey’s work, and her ﬁrst major exhibition in a museum. The photographs on view provide a comprehensive look into Davey’s 20-year career, which has included multiple solo and group exhibitions in galleries and group exhibitions in museums in the United States and Canada.
Moyra Davey’s work focuses on the humble and mundane accumulations of everyday objects such as stacks of newspapers, books, records, and money. Her images of domestic interiors feature dust, bookshelves, and the stuﬀ that accumulates on top of refrigerators. Her New York City street pictures focus on the disappearing world of newspaper vendors. Shying away from contemporary practices of large-scale, digitally manipulated, and staged photography, Davey works on a small scale — typically in 20 x 24 inch format — and prints her own work. Her modest scale encourages viewers to focus their attention and consequently increase their awareness of everyday life.
Davey’s photographs and videos have been featured in exhibitions at Alexander and Bonin, New York; American Fine Arts, Co., New York; Artists Space, New York; the International Center of Photography, New York; LACE, Los Angeles; the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Concordia University, Montreal; Massimo Audiello Gallery, New York, and the Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco; as well as other galleries and museums. She recently collaborated with Jason Simon on a video for 50,000 Beds, a project by Chris Doyle at Artspace in New Haven, CT, and is currently one of twelve founding members of Orchard, a cooperative exhibition and event space in New York City’s Lower East Side. She was also one of ten recipients of the 2004–05 award from the Anonymous Was a Woman Foundation.
Helen Molesworth, Maisie K. and James R. Houghton Curator of Contemporary Art, curated the exhibition, and collaborated closely with the artist on this survey. “Working with Moyra Davey on this exhibition has been a lesson in subtlety; whether it’s how one looks at the overlooked or how one threads together passages from numerous books, Davey’s work invariably oﬀers a kind of intellectual and aesthetic “time out.” She slows things down and hushes the room so that everyone can not only have their own thoughts but can hear them as well.”
Also an established author, Davey has written The Problem of Reading (2003), an essay ruminating on the act of reading, and edited Mother Reader: Essential Writings on Motherhood (2001), a compilation of writing by artists and writers on the struggles and joys of being a creative producer and a mother. In her essay “Notes on Photography & Accident” in the accompanying catalogue, Davey expounds on the idea that “accident is the lifeblood of photography.” With an interest in traditional photography’s reliance on the notion of accident, she contemplates the philosophical and psychological problems posed by photography, largely by parsing the work of Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, and Janet Malcolm.Though her photographs of cluttered desks are interspersed with this essay, they are not intended to function as illustrations; rather, they run parallel to her questioning of the diﬀerences between photographers and writers and the similarities between taking photographs and taking notes.
Molesworth was appointed in February 2007 as the Art Museums’ ﬁrst full curator of contemporary art. Since her appointment, she has become the ﬁrst incumbent of the Maisie K. and James R. Houghton Curatorship of Contemporary Art, an important gift that supports the Art Museums’ mission of collecting contemporary art.
“In establishing an endowed curatorship of contemporary art, we have renewed our commitment to living artists and the unique inspiration and discoveries they enable us to share with scholars, students, and the wider public,” said Thomas W. Lentz, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums. “This exhibition, Davey’s ﬁrst museum retrospective, reﬂects our intention to highlight the work of artists who are not yet part of the canon, but from whom we have a great deal to learn.”
The entryway to the gallery features 100 of Davey’s Copperheads (late 1980s–early 1990s), in a 10 x 10 grid form under Plexiglas. This series, taken with a macro lens, depicts extreme closeups of President Lincoln’s proﬁle on various pennies. Each image shows a diﬀerent penny whose surface has been nicked, scarred, gouged, and tarnished, or a combination of all mutilations that make it sometimes impossible to discern the proﬁle. Other works feature LP’s, as in Shure (2003) or Greatest Hits (1999), focusing on the persistence of analog technologies in our digital age. Books and magazines play an enormous role in Davey’s oeuvre in such works as Early (1999), Newsstand No. 3 (1994), and Yma (1999). In Davey’s pictures, books accumulate wildly, mimicking the feeling of endlessness one has in a library; but books also gather dust, and Davey’s pictures are as much about how books can produce feelings of entropy and death as they are about the ability of books to propagate knowledge.
Funding for the exhibition and catalogue was provided by the Alexander S., Robert L., and Bruce A. Beal Exhibition Fund, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and Wynn Kramarsky.
The catalogue that accompanies this exhibition includes an introduction by Helen Molesworth and an essay by Moyra Davey entitled “Notes on Photography & Accident.” Also included are a transcript of Davey’s video Fifty Minutes and 67 color photographs. The catalogue is published by the Harvard University Art Museums and distributed by Yale University Press.
Carpenter Center Exhibition
Two or Three Things I Know About Her, an exhibition also curated by Helen Molesworth, is running concurrently at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, adjacent to the Fogg Art Museum, at 24 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA. The exhibition is on view February 28 through April 6, 2008, and features Moyra Davey’s video Fifty Minutes, along with video, sound, and slide pieces by fellow artists Wynne Greenwood, K8 Hardy, Sharon Hayes, and Ulrike Müller.