MATRIX 190 / Image Trafficking
Artist Stephanie Syjuco finds new meaning
in Wadsworth Atheneum collections
On view October 7, 2022 – January 8, 2023
Hartford, Conn. (October 4, 2022)—Artist Stephanie Syjuco explores America’s early history and the creation of its national identity in a new installation opening at the Wadsworth on October 7. Immersive photographic works investigate mythical ideas of America as depicted in some of the museum’s best-known Hudson River School paintings, collected by Daniel Wadsworth as contemporary art while the artists were living. MATRIX 190 / Image Trafficking considers how ideas about American nationhood and identity have shifted since Thomas Cole, Alfred Bierstadt, and other noted 19th century artists painted the American landscape.
Syjuco worked with several of the Wadsworth’s departments tasked with the administration and care of its collection. The artist assessed analog files such as color transparencies, slides, and photocopies, then photographed them anew, turning her digital files into large-scale photographic murals and unique prints. Syjuco produces new readings of history through her layered compositions that focus, confuse, and conceal what she found.
“By rephotographing the outdated and obsolete celluloid reproductions of the Wadsworth’s own collection of Hudson River School paintings, this body of work focuses on the institutional markings, notations, copyright notices, and image cropping to examine the museum’s hand in commodifying and circulating a story of America,” says Stephanie Syjuco.
Among the artists Syjuco implicated are Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, Hiram Powers, and John Vanderlyn—whose painting The Murder of Jane McCrea (1804) is one of the works from the Wadsworth’s collection most frequently requested for reproduction. For this installation, Syjuco photographed a negative of the painting, offering an alternative reading of the image with reversed values of the figures’ skin tones. Her critical response to these grand portraits, romanticized landscapes, and dramatic history paintings asserts the role they play in perpetuating racist and patriarchal narratives like “Manifest Destiny,” a term coined in 1845 to describe the belief that it was American destiny to colonize the continent—a pursuit achieved through discriminating laws, violent displacements, genocides, and wars.
“Stephanie Syjuco’s MATRIX exhibition brings new life to the issues of this pivotal period, asking timely questions about the connection between photography, the museum, and America’s national identity,” said Jared Quinton, Marsted Fellow for Contemporary Art at the Wadsworth. “While Syjuco draws our attention to how the Wadsworth’s early collections have been photographed, and how and where those photographs have circulated since, she does so as in invitation to viewers to draw their own conclusions.”
“Through Stephanie Syjuco’s lens, signature works from the Wadsworth’s nineteenth-century American collection come under scrutiny as problematic records of America’s colonial past. Her artistic process has helped me re-contextualize these works of art for our visitors,” said Erin Monroe, Krieble Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Wadsworth. “Image Trafficking has reaffirmed efforts at the museum to revisit aspects of the historic American collections and exhume mythical notions about America and American identity.”
“We are thrilled that Stephanie Syjuco’s MATRIX exhibition offers an alternative lens through which to read our historic collections. Syjuco’s project presents new readings of familiar works of art, giving voice to perspectives that have been overlooked or ignored,” said Dr. Matthew Hargraves, Director of the Wadsworth. “Image Trafficking is a part of our ongoing efforts to actively explore the past in order to inspire conversations in the present.”
Since its inception in 1975, MATRIX has been a forum for celebrating cutting-edge art and artists at the Wadsworth. The first exhibition series of its kind, the Wadsworth’s MATRIX program has inspired more than 50 similar programs dedicated to contemporary art at museums across the country. Syjuco’s MATRIX project marks the 190th installation of the pioneering series.
For details and tickets visit thewadsworth.org/matrix190
Thursday, October 6; 5pm gallery viewing, 6pm talk
Syjuco will discuss her process of working with the museum’s staff, bringing to light the complexities of collection stewardship and the role art plays in shaping our view of history. Free.
Thursday, November 10; 6pm—Virtual
MATRIX Past and Present: Stephanie Syjuco and Byron Kim
Syjuco and Byron Kim (MATRIX 125) discuss their respective MATRIX exhibitions, their creative practices, and how they approach themes of identity, representation, and history in their work. MATRIX Past and Present is an ongoing series of conversations leading up to the 50th Anniversary of the MATRIX exhibitions program at the Wadsworth in 2025. Free with required reservation.
Thursday, November 17; 1pm
Curator Talk with Patricia Hickson
Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art Patricia Hickson discusses the body of work Syjuco created for this exhibition and how the artist collaborated cross-
Friday, January 6; 1pm
Gallery Talk with Erin Monroe and Jared Quinton
Erin Monroe, Krieble Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, and Jared Quinton, Marsted Fellow for Contemporary Art, discuss new interpretations of iconic works in the Wadsworth’s collections propelled by Syjuco’s MATRIX project. Free with admission.
Stephanie Syjuco (American, born Philippines, 1974), received her BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and MFA from Stanford University. Her awards and residencies include the Guggenheim Fellowship (2014), Artadia Fellowship Residency Award at the International Studio and Curatorial Program (2010), Joan Mitchell Painters & Sculptors Award (2009), and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (1997). She has had major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (2018); the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2018, 2017, 2011, 2000); Havana Biennial (2015); Asian Art Biennial (2015); Z33 Space for Contemporary Art (2012); ZKM Center for Art and Media Technology (2011); MoMA P.S.1 (2009, 2006); and Whitney Museum of American Art (2005). Syjuco is a long-time educator and currently an assistant professor of sculpture at the University of California, Berkeley. She lives and works in Oakland, California.
Exhibition and Program Support
MATRIX 190 is generously supported by the Wadsworth Atheneum’s Contemporary Coalition.
Sustaining support for the Wadsworth Atheneum provided by the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s United Arts Campaign, and the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Founded in 1842 with a vision for infusing art into the American experience, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is home to a collection of nearly 50,000 works of art spanning 5,000 years and encompassing European art from antiquity through contemporary as well as American art from the 1600s to today. The Wadsworth Atheneum’s five connected buildings—representing architectural styles including Gothic Revival, modern International Style, and 1960s Brutalism—are located at 600 Main Street in Hartford, Conn.
Current hours are noon–5pm Thursday–Sunday. Berkins on Main café hours are noon–4pm Thursday–Sunday. The library is open Fridays by appointment only. Visitors are encouraged to wear a face mask/covering while exploring the galleries. Face masks are required for all tours and gallery talks.
Admission: $5–15; discounts for members, students, and seniors. Free admission for Hartford residents with Wadsworth Welcome registration. Free “happy hour” admission 4–5pm. Advance ticket registration via thewadsworth.org is encouraged, not required. Phone: (860) 278- 2670; website: thewadsworth.org.
Images (top): Stephanie Syjuco, Master, Photographed (Albert Bierstadt, ‘In the Mountains,’ 1867, oil on canvas, acc. no. 1923.253, Collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art), 2022. Archival pigment print; 40 x 50 in. Courtesy of the artist, RYAN LEE Gallery, and Catharine Clark Gallery.
Stephanie Syjuco, Still Life Construct: Background as Foreground (staff photographer’s tools, props, and supports, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art), 2022. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artist, RYAN LEE Gallery, and Catharine Clark Gallery.
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