Painting Air Spencer Finch
Publisher & Date
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 2012
Spencer Finch, an artist known internationally for artwork that captures fleeting or intangible natural phenomena and sensory experiences, received his MFA in Sculpture from RISD in 1989. In the two decades since, Finch has created drawings, watercolors, photography, and video as well as sculpture and installations—selecting mediums and methods that seem best suited to conveying his fascination with light, color, and atmosphere. His focus of attention ranges from a speck of dust seen in a shaft of light in his studio to grand glaciers in New Zealand.
As a graduate student Finch worked in the RISD Museum's department of Painting and Sculpture with then curators Daniel Rosenfeld and Ann Slimmon Woolsey and spent many hours absorbing the art of the past and present on view in the galleries. In subsequent years Finch renewed his relationship with the collections from time to time as a visiting artist and lecturer.
In a subsequent site visit and conversations with Judith Tannenbaum, Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art, Finch's interest in choosing works from the Museum's storage vaults emerged, and the project expanded to include the adjoining gallery. Like many museums, the RISD Museum is only able to display a small percentage of its rich holdings at any given time; many objects remain inaccessible to visitors due to limited gallery space and a variety of other reasons. The precedent for inviting an artist to serve as curator and delve into storage dates back to Raid the Icebox 1 with Andy Warhol. Mounted at the RISD Museum in 1970, this seminal exhibition inspired similar projects nationally and internationally in more recent decades. Painting Air starts with Monet's painting The Basin at Argenteuil, 1874, which Finch copied in 1988. Finch's study of this light-filled composition proved to be a turning point that set him on the trajectory he has followed to this day. One gallery is devoted to groupings of objects from the Museum's collections—including paintings, drawings, prints, decorative arts, and textiles representing a range of cultures and time periods. Their placement underscores shared aesthetic influences, unexpected connections among disparate works, and Finch's personal sensibility. The other gallery features Finch's own work. It includes a new installation inspired by his visit last summer to Monet's water garden in Giverny, France, and two- and three-dimensional works that reveal both the subtlety and complexity of Finch's analysis of light and color and how we experience the natural and manmade world.