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Permanent Colection

Tim Davis

All art ends up as photographs. And in a strange misalignment, most of those photographs depict only the artworks' images, not the fact of their material presence. The photographs of Permanent Collection are phenomenological, relishing in the materiality of the paint and the history and labor embedded in the canvas. Made in American and European museums, they are photographed from oblique angles so light from existing museum sources changes the often-reproduced meaning of these works, adding light to familiar narratives, and blotting out anticipated images. In a move unfamiliar to photography, the light in these pictures is often used to obscure, as well as to illumine. The light, more than a way to describe, is part of the picture's content.

As in my series called "Retail", where signs from neighboring businesses reflected in the windows of suburban homes, the light in these works is an essential part of their content, not merely an aesthetic or storytelling tool. With no flash or external lighting, and printed to approximately the size of the original works, the pictures remind us that works of art are vivid and present things curated in particular places under concerted conditions, rewritten by the careful decisions of humans and institutions.

Throughout all my projects, and specifically in Permanent Collection, I am pursuing a visual world where light is syntactic; light veering close to content. In my work light is cultural and political. It is put there by someone, for a purpose: to invite citizens to share their money with corporations, to keep workers working, to describe democracy, to allow paintings in museums to be seen in one particular way. I have come to see my overarching project as one of Illillumination. Photographs that reveal, which are illuminating, and yet which incorporate glamorous failures and delightful misplacements. My work is here to revel in the way things look, and to trouble you with how things mean.

Each museum has a different culture, and it was fascinating working within those systems. Some, such as the Musee d'Orsay, (where S. Sebastien and L'origine du monde were made) just turned me loose in the museum on a day it was closed, enabling me to take as much time as I needed with some of the world's greatest masterpieces. Danseuse Espagnole was made at the Musee des Beaux Arts in Brussels, which had a guard follow me around all day. He was a bit bored with how much time it took me to take each picture, and in the photograph, you see a reflection of the guard asleep with his feet up across the room.

Self-Portrait has specific resonance for me. I grew up with a poster of the Van Gogh painting on my wall, and always knew that the image itself was undeniably powerful, and has a unity and intensity that is familiar to photographs, which are made all at one thorough instant. Finding it at the Fogg was a delight, but one function of this project was that I could never go to a museum expecting to photograph a particular painting, as my images were so dependent on a coincidence of museum lighting and the particular surface of the canvas. In this case, the painting was behind glass, which usually prevents me from making a picture, but the hanging spot lights above, seen from a slightly low angle, blocked out Van Gogh's eyes and mouth, almost like the way a criminal suspect's eyes are banded with a black box.

It has been my intention to have the light in the picture effect more than a spectacular flash, but often to add a narrative element, even as the light obscures the painter's intended image. So, in Snowstorm , the light creates an elemental feeling of falling snow. In Ecstasy of St. Francis , the light on the surface appears to be the origin of the light painted onto the figures.