Richard Ross: Museology Triptychs

Triptychs line the walls of the gallery. Each of the three pieces in the triptics shows a detail from a historical artwork.

Installation view, Richard Ross: Museology Triptychs, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 1989.

Bakalar Gallery
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Richard Ross
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This exhibition is second in a series celebrating the hundred and 51st anniversary of photography.

Santa Barbara-based photographer Richard Ross has spent the past twelve years prowling through the exhibition and storage spaces of art, history, and natural science museums around the world. He has documented eye-catching objects, individually or in suggestive juxtapositions, ranging from orphaned fragments of classical statuary to tattered taxidermy.

His recent color-coupler photographs on view here have been created with a small, primitive, optically faulty child’s plastic camera, one which museum guards observe with benign indifference. Ross snaps details of oil paintings, often by lesser-known artists, which he then crops, rescales, and rearranges into mysterious, drawn-out “narratives” in three parts. One writer has called these triptychs “a dumb show of oblique gestures”; the artist himself describes them as “a soap opera of art history.” 

Their dark and smoldering drama recalls some of the conventions of earlier Romantic art, but the deft quoting and reassembling from a variety of historical moments is entirely contemporary. The fragmentary images are both familiar and elusive, like dream debris, hovering just outside the range of identifiability. The eye travels from left to right, imaginatively reading or projecting meaningful and sequential connections among the parts. 

Publication available (ISBN 0-938437-28-3). An illustrated brochure with an essay by New York-base artist and writer Gerard Haggerty.