Cabinet of Curiosities: Photography & Specimens at Nelson-Atkins

Kansas City, MO. Aug. 30, 2012—The photography exhibition Cabinet of Curiosities: Photography & Specimens opens Sept. 12 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Featuring works that date from the 1850s to the present day, this show explores the many ways photography has expanded our centuries-old fascination with the marvelous, unusual, unexpected, exotic, extraordinary or rare.

“In the 16th and 17th centuries, Cabinets of Curiosities functioned like small museums. They were assembled by their owners to reflect the fascination with science and art,” said Jane Aspinwall, associate curator of photography. “Photography has always emphasized that relationship: specimens are typically used for scientific study, but they can also be considered works of art.” 
This exhibition includes examples ranging from the very tiny (microscopic images of snowflakes and insects) to the very distant (telescopic image of the moon’s surface). Some images, such as X-rays, emphasize photography’s role in extending human vision. Others document such oddities as Peter the Great’s collection of pulled teeth.  The wide range of processes on display—including  daguerreotypes, tintypes and cyanotypes—further suggests that these photographic objects are themselves visual specimens from a bygone era.
 
“To me, the range of specimens in this exhibition is fascinating. Botanical, X-ray, microscopic, medical…there is even a photograph of a fragment of a Civil War soldier’s arm bone, mounted and saved by the Army Medical Museum…what an oddity!”
 
Featured contemporary photographers Matthew Pillsbury, Emmet Gowin, and Richard Barnes raise questions about how specimens are displayed, preserved and interpreted and how this relates to the natural world. The differing ways specimens are seen photographically, and the human-made constructs used for specimen display are also explored. The exhibition runs through Feb. 10, 2013.
 
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
The Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City is recognized nationally and internationally as one of America’s finest art museums. The Nelson-Atkins serves the community by providing access and insight into its renowned collection of more than 33,500 art objects and is best known for its Asian art, European and American paintings, photography, modern sculpture, and new American Indian and Egyptian galleries. Housing a major art research library and the Ford Learning Center, the Museum is a key educational resource for the region. The institution-wide transformation of the Nelson-Atkins has included the 165,000-square-foot Bloch Building expansion and renovation of the original 1933 Nelson-Atkins Building.
The Nelson-Atkins is located at 45th and Oak Streets, Kansas City, MO. Hours are Wednesday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Thursday/Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, Noon-5 p.m. Admission to the museum is free to everyone. For museum information, phone 816.751.1ART (1278) or visit nelson-atkins.org.
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