Visitors manipulate the art in Sarah Oppenheimer exhibit at Wellin Museum

The Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College (Clinton, NY) presents the exhibition “Sarah Oppenheimer: Sensitive Machine” through December 5, 2021, featuring new work that invites visitors to collaboratively re-align and re-configure the Museum’s Dietrich Exhibition Gallery. Visitors touch and turn four hollow beams, setting in motion a relay of spatial cause and effect. Columns split and slide, creating new sightlines, while light fixtures rise and fall, shifting the radiance of the gallery.

Conceptually, the work explores how our actions—both individually and communally—shape the spaces we inhabit, and how those spaces embody a constant state of flux. The work mobilizes group dynamics and engages the joy of improvised learning, bringing awareness to the collaborative experience of inhabited architecture.

The exhibition is curated by Tracy L. Adler, the Johnson-Pote Director of the Wellin Museum of Art, and comprises four newly designed “instruments” that build on Oppenheimer’s recent exhibitions at Kunstmuseum Thun, Switzerland; and Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh.

Created specifically for the Wellin Museum’s open-plan exhibition space, each of the four instruments is linked to existing lighting tracks and subdividing walls. As visitors manually activate these instruments, a choreography of spatial change is set in motion. Lighting tracks slip between the vertical surfaces of sliding walls; luminosity levels fluctuate while sightlines are interrupted and revealed. The instruments are often interconnected: turning the input of one alters the configuration of another. The resulting spatial overlap blurs the boundaries between instruments such that they are no longer discrete.  Gradually, visitors become aware of the dynamic changes enacted and learn their component rhythms. Sensitive Machine forms a complex spatial network activated by the collaborative gestures of engaged viewers.

 “This exhibition is nine years in the making; I have been speaking to Sarah since the Wellin first opened in 2012 about working with us to develop an exhibition,” Adler said. “The type of experience Sarah’s work evinces is so important at this time in particular. Right now, when we cannot be in close proximity to people and places due to COVID, the show will allow for the kind of interaction we have long craved. We can ensure that visitors interact with the installation safely and still have a tactile experience. The audience is actively involved in the installation coming to life. This allows for an experience of physically reconnecting, both with objects and with each other.”

Sensitive Machine conceives of the instrument as a mechanism whose technical dimensions are profoundly social,” Oppenheimer said. “Museum visitors will become aware of one another’s presence, their bodily engagement, and the extent of their own reach. The residue of touch lingers and communicates; we sense others shaping the space we inhabit. Now more than ever, we must consider how spatial proximity and spatial agency are defined.”

About Sarah Oppenheimer

Sarah Oppenheimer (b. 1972, Austin, Texas; lives and works in New York City) received a BA from Brown University in 1995 and an MFA from Yale University in 1999. Her work has been featured in solo exhibitions at Kunstmuseum Thun, Switzerland (2020); MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts (2019); the Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio (2017); the Pérez Art Museum Miami, Florida (2016); MUDAM: Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg (2016); and Kunsthaus Baselland, Muttenz, Switzerland (2014).

She is a recipient of the Rome Prize Fellowship (2011–12), Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship (2009), and Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2007).

Oppenheimer is currently a senior critic at the Yale University School of Art.

She is represented by Annely Juda Fine Art in the UK and von Bartha in Switzerland.

About the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art

Designed by Machado Silvetti, the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College opened in October 2012. Through its exhibitions, public programs, and educational outreach, the Museum promotes interdisciplinary approaches and the cross-fertilization of concepts and ideas vital to a liberal arts education.

The Museum works with emerging and established artists and collaborates with Hamilton students and faculty to develop programming exploring a wide range of disciplines.

The Museum features a 27-foot- high visible archive, 6,200 square feet of exhibition space, and other amenities that foster common exchange and learning.

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