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Jeanne Dunning: Study after Untitled (January 25 — April 2, 2006)
Berkeley, CA, December 7, 2005—The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is proud to announce a survey exhibition of Chicago-based, internationally recognized photographer Jeanne Dunning. Jeanne Dunning: Study after Untitled will feature photographs and video works spanning more than two decades. The exhibition is on view from January 25 through April 2, 2006.
The focus of Dunning's provocative art has been the body and the slight changes that can transform an object—or a person—into something quite different. In particular, she explores the boundaries that distinguish male from female, normal from abnormal, and erotic from grotesque. Central to her work is perception. Dunning's photographs present unusual, often very close-up views of familiar subjects, ranging from fruit and vegetables to human body parts. In many of her works, first impressions do not add up, and viewers find that the image they are looking at depicts something quite different from what it at first appeared to be—a process that exhibition curator Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson humorously describes as "Got it, got it, oops, not what I thought." Dunning considers that her photographs manage "to be multiple things at once, and not necessarily what we expected them to be."
Dunning's explorations of gender and the female body meant that her work has long been a cornerstone of feminist art criticism; critics have compared it to performance art by Carolee Schneemann, or the gendered still lifes by painter Georgia O'Keefe. This retrospective exhibition, however, suggests a new interpretation of her work, viewing it in terms of art history and the traditional genres of landscape, still life, and portraiture. The exhibition also reveals some other influences on Dunning's work, including photographers Man Ray and Edward Weston, and artists Sherry Levine and Cindy Sherman.
Dunning's "landscapes" are extreme close-up images of a fragment of a body part—such as a leg or a finger—that suggest the elegance of Weston's black-and-white nudes. In each image the surface of the body suggests the slope of hills or the gentle dip of a valley. Seen in this intimate perspective, bulges form peaks, wrinkles are crevices or even finer fissures, and body hair resembles plant life. In another series of works, Dunning photographs close-ups of fruit and vegetables in a way that suggests an internal landscape of brightly colored organs and entrails.
A feature common to many of her works is Dunning's unhesitating willingness to create images that are slightly unsettling for the viewer. Some, such as her series of "blob" photographs, border on the repulsive in a way that is at the same time strangely compelling. On a Platter shows a young woman standing at a table, holding a large platter onto which spills what at first appears to be her bloated, distorted belly. A second look reveals that the "belly" is instead a fluid-filled sac that is the color of the model's flesh, sagging from beneath her clothing. Other works in this series show the model and her "blob" in a variety of unremarkable settings and poses—lying in bed, or sitting on the floor—that only amplify the sense that we are being shown something private that shouldn't be revealed. Like much of Dunning's work, these images are about finding the boundaries of what is considered normal or acceptable, and, as the artist herself says, "giving them a little push."
In the series Heads, Dunning creates images that fulfill all the criteria of formal portraiture—except that they show the backs of women's heads rather than their faces. By photographing women from behind, Dunning emphasizes the idea of feminine beauty and the emphasis upon hair as a defining feature of a woman's appearance. Another series features photographs of women as they might appear in a college yearbook or a passport photograph: facing forward, from the shoulders up, and looking directly at the camera. A second look reveals that all of the women have faint yet unmistakable mustaches—another play upon accepted notions of female beauty and physical identity. The exhibition also includes two video works, Extra Skin (Adding) and Trying to See Myself, which explore the impossibility of getting an undistorted view of oneself.
Jeanne Dunning: Study after Untitled was curated for BAM/PFA by Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, former MATRIX curator. It will remain on view through Sunday, April 2, 2006, before traveling to the Chicago Cultural Center.
Jeanne Dunning: Study after Untitled, fully illustrated exhibition catalog with essays by Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, Russell Ferguson, and Jeanne Dunning. $20, paperback.
Wednesday, January 25, 12 noon
In a walkthrough of her exhibition, Jeanne Dunning will discuss the ways in which her photographic and video works have engaged with the terrain of the human body.
UC Berkeley graduate students from the departments of art history, performance studies, women's studies, and rhetoric will offer guided tours of the exhibition on selected Thursdays at 12:15 and 5:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Jeanne Dunning: The Unexpected Effect
Sunday, March 19, 3 p.m.
Allan deSouza, Alva Nöe, Ralph Rugoff, Linda Williams, Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson
Exhibition curator Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson will introduce and moderate a discussion of Dunning's work. Panelists are Alva Noë, a UC Berkeley philosophy professor who addresses the rhetoric of visual perception; Ralph Rugoff, director of California College of the Arts' Wattis Institute, whose writing and curatorial projects have addressed a broad range of aesthetic issues in contemporary art; Allan deSouza, a Los Angeles-based artist whose own work addresses issues in common with Dunning's work; and Linda Williams, a UC Berkeley professor of rhetoric and film studies, whose research and writing have considered visual surrealism and the body in film.
The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Additional support is provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Koret Foundation, the Bernard Osher Foundation, Packard Humanities Institute, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Columbia Foundation, the Christensen Fund, the William H. Donner Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, Gap Inc., other private foundations and corporations, and our individual donors and members. Major endowment support has been provided by the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation and by George Gund III.
Gap Inc. is proud to support First Impressions: Free First Thursdays at BAM/PFA. For more information about Free First Thursday gallery tours and screenings visit our website at bampfa.berkeley.edu.
University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Located at 2626 Bancroft Way, just below College Avenue near the UC Berkeley campus.
Gallery and Museum Store Hours:
Wednesday and Friday to Sunday, 11 to 5; Thursday 11 to 7. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
General admission is $8; admission for seniors, disabled persons, non-UC Berkeley students, and young adults (13 – 17) is $5; admission for BAM/PFA members, UC Berkeley students, staff and faculty, and children under 12 is free; admission for group tours is $3 per person (to arrange a group tour, call  642-5188). Admission is free on the first Thursday of each month.
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