‘Theatre of Memory: Photographic Works,” Michelle Stuart’s engrossing and elegant exhibition (through June 26), ably organized by curator and critic Gregory Volk, spotlights a lesser-known aspect of this Land Art pioneer’s practice. The recent installations are prefaced by a pair of works from Stuart’s 1981 “Codex” series, in which paper stained with earth from two sites (Uxmal in the Yucatan and a New Jersey quarry) are framed by a series of site photos that anticipate her current ventures. The 12 photographic grids suggest albums of collected images that have been unbound in order to be seen both as a panorama and individually. The grids function as an idiosyncratic atlas, travelogue, and memoir, simultaneously fictive and factual, timely and timeless, ordered and much less so. Utterly romantic, the images evoke references to poets, writers, and philosophers such as Rainer Maria Rilke, T. S. Eliot, W. G. Sebald, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Stuart poses existential questions at the same time as she praises the Earth, spoiling her viewers with—to paraphrase Rilke—all the wonders she has felt.
Jill Baroff’s outdoor installation (which closed on May 8) was more phenomenal and perceptual, but magical in another way. Long influenced by Japanese aesthetics and its economy of means to create works of discreet, cumulative intensity, she has lopped off branches to form tree trunks arranged in clusters, the surface of each cross section angled and grooved a little differently. Painted one shade of blue, the light repaints them to produce an astonishing array of different blues. The simplicity of the concept is delightful, resulting in a kind of changing, fluidly illuminated sculpture without technology. Baroff also refers to literary sources. The title of the installation, in a grove, refers not only to traditional places of contemplative retreat for Zen masters and literati, but also to the Ryūnosuke Akutagawa short story that inspired Kurosawa’s celebrated 1950 film Rashōmon (another title from another Akutagawa story) in which truth is seen to be complicated, multifaceted, and contingent.