The Morgan’s Technicolor Dreamcoat
Last weekend, while everyone was flocking to Central Park or decamping to the nearest beach, I found myself happy to be inside, in midtown Manhattan, admiring Spencer Finch’s installation, A Certain Slant of Light, in the atrium of the Morgan Library. Finch (American, b. 1962) applied 365 colored film gels to the windows and to glass panels that dangle in the center of the four-story glass courtyard. As the natural light changes throughout the day, the Mondrian-esque grid–inspired by calendars and medieval prayer books–shifts and sparkles. Finch will change his palette in conjunction with each season, various (secular) holidays of his choosing, and the movement of the sun, creating deliberate and scientifically conceived alignments and overlaps of light and shadow.
Spencer Finch, A Certain Slant of Light, 2014. Photo courtesy of the author.
Conflating human and natural cycles, Finch’s abstract installations convey the subjective and often subconscious nature of our perceptions and memories. He recently created an enormous curtain wall featuring 26 different shades of glass for the facade of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, an homage to Monet’s Impressionist landscape paintings.
Spencer Finch, Johns Hopkins Hospital Project, 2009. Photo courtesy of mikebloomberg.com
His work reminds me of synesthetic artists like Kandinsky or Scriabin, or Olafur Eliasson, who uses scientific configurations involving light and color to produce startling sensory encounters. I also thought of William Lamson’s beautiful Solarium (2012), a greenhouse with caramelized sugar panes, temporarily installed at Storm King a few years ago.
William Lamson, Solarium, 2012. Steel, glass, sugar, plants. Courtesy the artist and Pierogi Gallery.
But what I found so compelling about A Certain Slant of Light was not necessarily its dazzling and emotionally evocative visual quality, but rather how the work gives a subtle examination of the function and effect of filters: the aesthetic, cultural, religious, and psychological transparencies that shape our lives. The museum atrium provides an apt framework for this multi-faceted investigation of how we approach our daily interactions and how we internalize these experiences, highlighting what may be foregrounded, imagined, or lost in the process.
Spencer Finch, Painting Air, 2012. Photography by Erik Gould. Courtesy of Spencer Finch.
Installation at Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence. More than 100 panels of suspended glass of varying reflectivity refract and distort the wall mural, which is an abstraction of Monet’s garden at Giverny.
A Certain Slant of Light: Spencer Finch at the Morgan is up June 20, 2014 through January 11, 2015.