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Exhibiting Signs of Age
October 8, 2003 through January 18, 2004
The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is proud to present a exhibition that examines representations of aging and the elderly. At a time when both government and corporations are beginning to confront the challenges and opportunities associated with an aging generation of Baby Boomers, Exhibiting Signs of Age presents 38 images that explore the perception and representation of age, ranging from common stereotypes to frank self-portraiture. In photographs and works on paper by eleven artists, Exhibiting Signs of Age provides insight into many of the issues that surround aging, while also addressing the conventions of portraiture and the ways in which individuality is depicted.
Exhibiting Signs of Aging opens on October 8 and runs through January 18, 2004, and will be concurrent with BAM/PFA's major exhibition Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics (August 27 through December 7, 2003). Together, the exhibitions offer a unique opportunity to compare the ways in which we understand identity—is who we are determined by our genes or the way in which we are perceived by the world around us? How would genetic cloning effect our understanding of aging? Could biotechnology hold the key to eternal youth?
While the U.S. population is increasingly made up of people over the age of 65, mainstream media continues to be saturated with images of youth and advertisements for products that promise to counteract signs of age. In the face of this apparent cultural denial, Exhibiting Signs of Age turns to twentieth-century and contemporary artistic practice to explore representations of age and aging. A number of artists included in Exhibiting Signs of Age approach the theme of aging through self-portraiture, using their own bodies as a site of self-scrutiny and exploration. In a series of large-scale photographs, for example, John Coplans examines the defamiliarizing effects of his aging physique. Coplans presents a body reduced to abstract parts: a callused heel, a contorted hand, a cropped torso. Pointing to the liminal state of aging, Imogen Cunningham's self-portraits address the feelings of invisibility that older people can experience in our youth-obsessed culture. In her conceptually based Seniors Project, the 29-year-old Nikki S. Lee appropriates stereotypical appearances of elder citizens. Lee's ability to masquerade as a senior questions the legibility of age and suggests the malleability of identity. Challenging our preconceptions of old age, Chester Higgins Jr.'s ten-year photographic project Elder Grace: The Nobility of Aging offers portraits of uncommon beauty, strength, and majesty. Ed Kashi and Julie Winokur's series Aging in America: The Years Ahead represents diverse experiences of aging in our increasingly older society. Exhibiting Signs of Age also includes work by Louise Bourgeois, Chuck Close, Jim Goldberg, Nina Katchadourian, Robert Mapplethorpe, and George Segal.
Exhibiting Signs of Age is co-curated by Sharon Corwin, Lunder Curator, Colby College Museum of Art, and Beth Dungan, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Medicine, the Humanities and Law.
Panel Discussion: Exhibiting Signs of Age
Wednesday, October 8, 4 – 6 p.m., reception following
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall, UC Berkeley
Scholars and artists come together to explore strategies, conventions, and implications of representing the aging body. Jumping off from a survey of historical precedents for representing aging, the discussion will take up ways in which contemporary medical education and practice respond to issues of aging and the challenges of depicting the aging body. A variety of artistic approaches—including the documentary tradition, abstraction, scientific illustration, and self-portraiture—will be explored in a discussion about the ethics of representing identity.
Participants include: Thomas W. Laqueur, Interim Director, Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, and Professor of History, UC Berkeley; Guy Micco, MD, Director, Center on Aging, and Director, Center of Medicine, Humanities, and Law, UC Berkeley; Beth Dungan, Exhibition Co-curator; Ed Kashi, Photographer, and Julie Winokur, Writer/Producer.
Curator's Talks: Aging and the Body
Beth Dungan, Exhibition Co-curator
Thursday, October 9, 12:15
Thursday, November 13, 12:15
Theater Gallery, UC Berkeley Art Museum
How do we age? Is aging a bodily process, a physical transformation measured by changes in hair, skin, and hormones? Or is it a social phenomenon, an identity that changes through cultural roles and relationships? Beth Dungan explores these questions with museum visitors while investigating a variety of artistic strategies for the representation of aging on view in the exhibition.