Shimon Attie—Sightings: The Ecology of an Art Museum

Exhibition Dates: October 25, 2008–February 22, 2009

San Francisco, August 2008—Shimon Attie’s Sightings: The Ecology of an Art Museum, on view October 25, 2008, to February 22, 2009, at the de Young Museum, is a multiple-channel, high-definition video installation that explores the relationship between works of art and museum visitors and staff. Attie’s particular interest is giving visual form to the heightened moment of mutual encounter between art viewer and art object. The exhibition is part of the museum’s Collection Connections series, which invites artists to create new work that reinterprets traditional objects from the FAMSF collections.

Shimon Attie is best known for his installations that incorporate projected photography and other media into and onto architectural sites. Attie’s past works have given visual form to memory and the human imagination by animating public sites with images of their lost histories, and in more recent years by creating multiple-channel video installations for museum and gallery exhibitions. He often explores questions of memory, place, and identity and the themes of layered and buried histories. Through his work, which has been mostly video of late, Attie reveals the rich complexity of the past and the dark secrets of our environment.

Attie started his Collection Connections project by selecting 40 objects from the encyclopedic collections at both the de Young and the Legion of Honor. Next, Attie invited individuals to participate in wordless “dialogues” with the works of art by asking them to make a physical gesture and compose a facial expression that embodied their emotional response to the art object. Attie captured the gestures and expressions while filming them on an unseen moving stage, thus creating a series of tableaux. Participants were illuminated within a black void using a complex lighting set up that created a delicate and beautiful play of light and shadow reminiscent of Old Master paintings. Slow-motion footage accentuates the moment of mutual encounter between the viewer and the object and provides a comment on the active/passive quality of the interactions. Attie says, “Sightings reveals the relationship between the diverse inhabitants of San Francisco, who come to the city from all over the world, and the global collections of art objects in the museums.”

Born in Los Angeles in 1957, Shimon Attie has received international recognition for his installations that incorporate a variety of media including installation art, video, photography, performance, new media, and public art. After studying at the University of California, Berkeley, Antioch University, and San Francisco State University, Attie spent much of the 1990s living and working in Berlin. His work has been shown in group and solo exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Jewish Museum, New York; and Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, among many others. Attie’s works encourage viewers to reflect on the relationships between place, memory, and identity. Attie has described his work “as a kind of peeling back of the wallpaper of today to reveal the histories buried underneath.” The artist has lived and worked in New York City since 1997.

Collection Connections
Collection Connections is a series that presents new works that aim to reinterpret traditional objects from the FAMSF permanent collections. The contemporary artists working in this space create installations that transform the conventional experience of museum visitors. For each project, artist and curator draw inspiration from the permanent collection, offering nontraditional connections that provide visual and educational opportunities to explain, interpret, and recontextualize the art objects on display throughout the museum. Through these projects, visitors are given a window into the ways that artists and cultural institutions construct and disseminate knowledge about historical understanding and current attitudes.

Collection Connections is generously funded by the Annenberg Foundation. The series is part of FAMSF’s Cultural Encounters initiative designed to attract new and diverse audiences to the Museum.

de Young Visitor Information
The de Young, designed by Herzog & de Meuron and located in Golden Gate Park, showcases American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries, international contemporary art, textiles and costumes, and art from the Americas, the Pacific, and Africa.

Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118

Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, 9:30 am–5:15 pm. Friday 9:30 am–8:45 pm. Closed on Monday.

$20 adults, $17 seniors, $16 youths, 13–17 and students with a college I.D. Members and children 12 and under are free. Above prices include the $10 special exhibition surcharge.

The first Tuesday of every month is free. ($10 special exhibition surcharge still applies.) $10 admission to see the permanent collection only.

The de Young is accessible to wheelchair users. For information, contact the ADA Coordinator: 415.750.7645 (voice) or 415.750.3509 (TTY).