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Photography Professor Catherine Wagner lectures at new deYoung

Catherine Wagner

Mills photography professor Catherine Wagner became part of the inaugural exhibition at the new deYoung Museum in San Francisco.

Wagner’s exhibit, “Re-classifying History,” is her way of photographically re-telling history and is housed in the Connections Gallery. The gallery is situated so that to enter any wing of the museum, one must pass through it. When searching for an artist to open the Connections Gallery, curator of contemporary projects Daniel Cornell said he looked for an artist that could “bridge history and contemporary and have a coherent way of approaching interpretation.”

Last weekend, Wagner visited the deYoung to lecture on her exhibit. The lecture covered her entire career, including photos of all her projects. Wagner’s career began in the mid-1970s, and she has since received numerous fellowships, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship.

Wagner’s work focuses on the smaller things that make up our lives. She has looked into homes, taking photos of what she calls “the most quiet elements of life,” those things that we don’t always think about but are an integral part of everyday life such as the chairs in her current exhibit. Her work rarely has people in it. “It’s not about portraiture, but conceptual models that we interact with,” she said.

Wagner’s current exhibit looks at the typical, linear model of history and works to “upend it.” Upon receiving her commission to work with the deYoung, Wagner was asked to look in the museum warehouses and work with something there for the exhibit. Wagner chose the museum’s collection of antique chairs. “I chose the chair because it is a metaphor for the body, it has become an iconic symbol of who we are,” she said, when explaining her current exhibit.

The chairs were arranged in a variety of ways, never in order of age. Some were leaning on each other or sideways on the floor, others were facing each other to simulate conversation. “I wanted to change how history has been laid out and become compartmentalized and linear,” she said.

The other focus of “Re-classifying History” is on three statues Wagner found in the warehouse. The statues of a young Christopher Columbus and the mythical figures Delilah and Penelope are photographed in their crating systems. The crating systems obscure and emphasize different parts of the marble statues, changing their original shape and giving them new meaning.

“Re-classifying History” is just one of many exhibits at the new deYoung, including “Hatshepsut: from Queen to Pharaoh” and “Personal Perspectives: Aspects of American Photography,” all running through February 2006. For more information visit