“IMPERIAL, MONTREAL”: This 1995 photograph by Hiroshi Sugimoto is part of “Time’s Relentless Melt,” 10 artists’ ruminations on the complex nature of time, on view through November 6 at the Princeton University Art Museum’s Art on Hulfish gallery.
The ways we grapple with time — its use as a measuring tool for our lives, its nature as both intangible and tangible, and its unceasing march forward — are the subject of the exhibition “Time’s Relentless Melt” at the Princeton University Art Museum. Curated by Katherine Bussard, the Museum’s Peter Bunnell Curator of Photography, the exhibition will be on view through November 6 at Art on Hulfish, the Museum’s photo-forward gallery in downtown Princeton.
Deriving its title from Susan Sontag’s observation that “All photographs testify to time’s relentless melt” (On Photography, 1977), the exhibition explores ideas and experiences around temporality, disruption, and delay. Featuring works created both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic — when people globally experienced time as stalled and disrupted — the exhibition speaks to the fluidity of time and how our perceptions shift both collectively and as individuals.
Works range from the scientific to the political, including Andy Goldsworthy’s Scotland Hedge crawl / dawn / frost / cold hands / Sinderby, England / 4 March 2014, one of his seminal performances with nature, in which the labor of his body’s movements is juxtaposed with the peaceful silence of the countryside; Zorawar Sidhu and Rob Swainston’s July 18, 2021, a woodblock print based on a widely circulated news photograph of the social distancing circles at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Williamsburg Park, Brooklyn; and Katie Paterson’s Timepieces (Solar System), in which time’s abstract nature is depicted in a series of clocks recording the time on the eight planets in our solar system and on the Earth’s moon; on Mercury, for example, one day’s duration is 4,223 hours. The work reflects the immense differences in axial rotation between celestial bodies and reminds us that Earth is but one part of a solar system that is itself a part of a vast cosmos. Together, these works explore how time is recorded and remembered and invite viewers to consider the tension between ephemerality and permanence.
“Gathering these works together creates a space in which we can pause and consider the ways in which we mark time, both sentimentally and critically,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director. “Whether poetic, elegiac, or visceral, seen together they invite us to think more deeply about a construct so fundamental that we may take it for granted.”
For instance, in his photographic series Birmingham Project, Dawoud Bey uses the diptych format, a device that often purposefully conjures time by pairing before and after moments. The series is a response to the 1963 white supremacist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. Bey juxtaposes a photograph of a resident of Birmingham at the age of a child murdered that day with a resident who is 49 years older — the age that child would have been had they survived — to show the aging process and allude to its violent disruption. As the artist has reflected, “the past doesn’t stay in the past.”
Other artists featured in the exhibition include Alejandro Cesarco, Rich Frishman, Chris McCaw, Alison Rossiter, and Hiroshi Sugimoto, along with collaborators Peter Fischli and David Weiss.
The public is invited to an open house of the exhibition on Saturday, September 10, from 1 to 4 p.m. hosted by the exhibition’s curator and the Museum’s director. Additionally, Art Museum members are invited to a members-only open house with refreshments on Wednesday, September 20, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. On Thursday, October 27 at 5:30 p.m., artist Alison Rossiter will join Curator Katherine Bussard for a conversation about Rossiter’s work and its relationship to the themes of the exhibition.
Art on Hulfish is located at 11 Hulfish Street. It is open daily, and admission is free. For more information, visit artmuseum.princeton.edu.