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Looking at the Visual: Art as Object, Art as Experience

October 16 to December 11, 1999

Marsh Art Gallery


How do you read a painting? A sculpture? A print? Can they be studied the way that we study books? We live in a very visual culture, but we seldom study why a particular form, color, or image has an effect upon us. Visual art has a language, or series of languages, just like written texts. The languages can be more immediate than words, and they can tell us things about ourselves, the world around us, imaginary and supernatural worlds, and even tell stories. This exhibition includes works from many time periods and cultures in order to explore artistic languages, and to ask questions for reflection and discussion.

The exhibition is about both the process of making art and the experience of looking at art. The exhibition centers on the idea that "looking" is a deliberate act, that an understanding of the visual language artists use to make works of art and to direct meaning is essential to this process oflooking. The role cultural formation plays in both the creation of works of art and their reception is of particular interest in this context, as is the question of the viewer's freedom to interpret.

Divided into four themes, the exhibition explores: "Visual Language" which has the nude as its subject, "Representing the Natural World" focuses on the conventions of landscape, "Representing the lmagined World" includes both spiritual and other-world images, and "Visual Narratives" investigates explicit and suggested story-telling. The exhibition ends with "Abstraction" serving as a coda to the four main themes.

This exhibition is presented in conjunction with the required year-long course, titled "Exploring Human Experience," taken in the first year by every University of Richmond student. Referred to as the Core Course, it is considered a foundation course and is based primarily on books and texts from a range of cultures, disciplines, and historical periods. The course also embraces other avenues of intellectual inquiry through music, film, and art; and this exhibition has been developed to demonstrate how art is a vital part of exploring fundamental issues of human experience. Organized around themes and topics to be covered in depth by our students and faculty involved in this course, the intention is to present visual objects as comparative texts for discussion and encourage the "reading" and analyzing of works of art just as written texts are studied and interpreted.

Organized by the Marsh Art Gallery, University of Richmond Museums, the exhibition is co-curated by Stephen Addiss, Tucker-Boatwright Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Art History, and Margaret Fields Denton, Associate Professor of Art History, both of the University of Richmond. The exhibition is made possible with the generous support of The Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation and the University of Richmond Cultural Affairs Committee.

Publication Date



University of Richmond Museums


Richmond, VA


painting, sculpture, print, University of Richmond Museums, abstraction, visual language


Art and Design | Fine Arts

Looking at the Visual: Art as Object, Art as Experience