Images of Wellness and Illness, Care and Suffering Across Time and Cultures Profiled in Special Exhibition

States of Health: Visualizing Illness and Healing on view Nov. 2, 2019-Feb. 2, 2020 at the Princeton University Art Museum

PRINCETON, N.J. – Throughout history and across cultures, concepts of illness and healing have been given concrete form through art. States of Health: Visualizing Illness and Healing features over 80 objects from around the world, from antiquity to the present – including paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, photographs and multimedia – that collectively illuminate the role that art plays in shaping our perceptions and experiences of illness and healing. The works of art represent and respond to pandemics and infectious disease, mental illness, the hopes and dangers associated with childbirth and the complexities of care.

            Master of the Greenville Tondo, Italian, active 1500–1510, formerly attributed to Perugino (Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci), Italian, 1450–1523, Saint Sebastian, ca. 1500–1510. Oil on wood panel transferred to canvas on pressed-wood panel. Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation to the New Jersey State Museum; transferred to the Princeton University Art Museum. Photo Bruce M. White.Organized by Veronica White, curator of academic programs, and Laura Giles, Heather and Paul G. Haaga Jr., Class of 1970, curator of prints and drawings, the exhibition will be on view exclusively at the Princeton University Art Museum from Nov. 2, 2019, through Feb. 2, 2020.

            The Museum has collaborated with a diverse range of disciplines, programs and voices at Princeton – including experts in the fields of infectious diseases, disability, literature, medicine, contagion, psychology and creative writing – in order to provide multiple points of entry to the objects on view. 

          Leonora Carrington, British, active Mexico and United States, 1917–2011, Crookhey Hall, 1987. Color lithograph. Gift of David L. Meginnity, Class of 1958. © Leonora Carrington / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.  “With the medical humanities a growing field in the academy, States of Health afforded us an extraordinary opportunity to pose important questions about how we visualize both wellness and disease,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, director. “By positioning objects that have likely never been in dialogue with each other before, the exhibition draws on multidisciplinary perspectives to consider health and healing today, how artists have interpreted these states over time and how they both differ and share certain characteristics across many cultures.” 

            States of Health is organized into four thematic groupings: “Confronting Contagion”; “States of Mind”; “Worlds of Care”; and “Birthing Narratives.” Provocative cross-cultural juxtapositions throughout the exhibition consider both broad issues and specific historical events from a visual perspective.

            In “Confronting Contagion,” the two primary areas of focus are the bubonic plague and AIDS, while additional artworks speak to syphilis, cholera and typhoid fever, among other diseases. A 16th-century Italian painting of Saint Sebastian by the Master of the Greenville Tondo shows the role this early Christian martyr played as a protector against the plague, also known as the black death. A 1992 screenprint of two figures from a graphic memoir created by the artist David Wojnarowicz and the cartoonist James Romberger illustrates Wojnarowicz’s life, from his years as a homeless teenager to his struggles with AIDS. 

           Gordon Parks, American, 1912–2006, Isabel Beside Sick Father, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1961. Gelatin silver print. Museum purchase, Hugh Leander Adams, Mary Trumbull Adams, and Hugh Trumbull Adams Princeton Art Fund. ©The Gordon Parks Foundation. “States of Mind” features artists’ reflections on their own mental struggles as well on the experiences of others. Utilizing different stylistic means, these works communicate inner turmoil, while inviting empathy from the viewer. Leonora Carrington’s color lithograph Crookhey Hall depicts fleeing figures and an ominous palace in the background, suggesting associations with her book Down Below (1944), a harrowing account of her experiences in an asylum, where she was subjected to convulsive shock therapy.

            “Worlds of Care” juxtaposes objects used for medical treatment with others providing spiritual comfort, and places in conversation works reflecting self-care with others depicting caregiving by a doctor or other healer. Gordon Parks’s photograph Isabel Beside Sick Father, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil speaks powerfully to suffering and healing. In 1961 Life magazine sent Parks to Brazil for a story on poverty in Latin America, specifically in Rio de Janeiro’s notorious favelas, where he spent weeks documenting the lives of the Da Silva family.

         Yorùbá artist, Twin commemorative figures (ere ibeji) with tunic, late 19th–early 20th century. Wood, tukula, metal, glass beads, cotton, abrus seeds, and leather. Museum purchase, Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund. Photo Bruce M. White.   The final section, “Birthing Narratives,” speaks to the hopes and perils associated with pregnancy, childbirth and the many rituals across cultures surrounding the start of human life. In Nigeria, which experiences one of the world’s highest rates of twin births, Yorùbá parents who lost one or both of their twins often commissioned Ère Ìbejì sculptures, miniature images created to house the immortal souls of children said not to have died, but to “have traveled” or “gone to market.” To care for the child’s spirit, the parents or surviving twin would ritually wash, clothe and feed the sculpture, resulting in its present worn surface.  

            A rich array of public programs accompanying the exhibition will further examine the ways in which artists have tackled disease, responded to mental illness and explored the complexities of care. Among those planned are a curator’s lecture and student dance performance inspired by the themes in the exhibition on Nov. 7 at 5:30 p.m.; an all-day symposium followed by a reception on Nov. 15; a concert by the Princeton Chamber Music Society on Nov. 21 at 5:30 p.m. exploring the multifaceted intersection of music and medicine; and a Day With(out) Art community event on Dec. 1 at 2 p.m., marking the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day.

            States of Health: Visualizing Illness and Healing is made possible in part by the Malcolm J. Goldstein, Class of 1947, Fund; the Frances E. and Elias Wolf, Class of 1920, Fund; and by J. Bryan King, Class of 1993. Generous support is also provided by the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, the Gillett G. Griffin Art of the Ancient Americas Fund, and by Princeton University's Humanities Council, Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Council on Science and Technology, Department of Molecular Biology, and Department of Anthropology.

About the Princeton University Art Museum

            With a collecting history that extends back to 1755, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the leading university art museums in the country, with collections that have grown to include over 110,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary art and spanning the globe.

            Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum also serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world. Intimate in scale yet expansive in scope, the Museum offers a respite from the rush of daily life, a revitalizing experience of extraordinary works of art and an opportunity to delve deeply into the study of art and culture.

            The Princeton University Art Museum is located at the heart of the Princeton campus, a short walk from the shops and restaurants of Nassau Street. Admission is free. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays.

Art@Bainbridge, the Museum’s new gallery project dedicated to emerging contemporary artists, is located at 158 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton. Admission is free. Art@Bainbridge hours are Sunday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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