From the Beauty Shoppe

Stephen Guion Williams (b. 1942), Sunrise, Chosen Land, 1972, gelatin silver print on paper, H. 20 3/4 x W. 13 7/8 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum. Museum purchase funded by the Bette and G. Nelson Pfundt Photography Endowment.

“What respite from her thrilling toil

Did Beauty ever take—

But Work might be electric Rest

To those that Magic make—“


                        —Emily Dickinson

 The James A. Michener Art Museum takes a fresh look at an ancient concept in Making Magic: Beauty in Word and Image, on view November 3, 2012 through March 31, 2013 in the museum’s Fred Beans Gallery.

Creative people have been obsessed with beauty since the cave painters of prehistoric France and Spain, and continue to claim it for themselves using techniques both familiar and unconventional. Organized by the Michener Art Museum and drawn in part from the Michener’s collection, Making Magic: Beauty in Word and Image explores beauty not through aesthetic discourse but through the eyes and ears of contemporary artists. From the endless ways of seeing beauty, the exhibit loosely defines four overlapping types—lyrical, corporeal, transforming, and empathic—and explores these ideas using the work of photographers and poets from the Philadelphia region.

“We all know what beauty is—as long as we don’t think about it too much,” says Brian H. Peterson, the Michener’s Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator.  “Stuff that’s new, bright, clean, being born, blossoming, or happy is beautiful; stuff that’s old, dull, dirty, dying, withering, or sad is not beautiful. But artists often challenge these traditional assumptions, finding beauty in unexpected places and teaching us that there’s more to beauty than beauty queens and beauty sleep.”

“The world has an endless supply of terror, and an infinite supply of beauty,” Peterson continues. “This exhibit is about the beauty side of the equation, but never forgets that beauty is not a vacation from reality. It is reality. True beauty absorbs the darkness like an oyster absorbs a grain of sand.”

Visitors to the exhibit will see the work of 17 of the region’s most distinguished photographers, including Emmet Gowin, John Weiss, Paula Chamlee, Michael A. Smith, and Andrea Baldeck. Poems about beauty by 16 regional poets will also be integrated into the exhibition; these poets include several former Poets Laureate of Bucks and Montgomery Counties, as well as faculty members at regional colleges and universities.

Visitors will also be able to use their cell phone as an ongoing part of the experience of Making Magic: Beauty in Word and Image. From the comfort of their living rooms, they will be able to access poetry read by the poets featured in the show, and listen to selected readings by Curator Brian Peterson. Visitors will also have the opportunity to provide feedback on the exhibition along with responding to artworks and poems featured in the exhibition. “We hope that visitors will enjoy the additional content provided on this platform, and we’re pleased to provide this innovative tool for audience participation,” says Adrienne Neszmelyi-Romano, Director of Education, New Media and Interpretive Initiatives. “Audio responses provided by visitors will be incorporated into the exhibition throughout the run of the show.”

This Mobile technology will also provide additional audio stops in the permanent collection galleries for families and for adults.

Making Magic: Beauty in Word and Image is accompanied by a 104-page catalogue with more than 40 illustrations and selected poetry.

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