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215 Starling Avenue
Martinsville, Virginia 24112
October 23, 2021 - January 8, 2022
On loan from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Sponsored by Jill and Jay Dickens, Anne and Eric Smith, Barbara and Guy Stanley, King's Grant, Books and Crannies and Lynwood Artists
Born to Italian immigrant parents and raised in Rochester, New York, Chiarenza’s interest in photography developed early in his childhood. From 1953 to 1957, Chiarenza studied at the Rochester Institute of Technology under the direction of Minor White and Ralph Hattersley. Since the late 1960s, Chiarenza has been a leading figure in a movement that seeks to expand the conceptual boundaries of photography. Chiarenza’s photographs have been included in more than 80 solo and 250 group exhibitions since 1957. His black-and-white photographs, which often contain elements of collage, have continued to challenge notions of landscape, abstraction, visitor perspective, and the very medium of photography itself.
Chiarenza is inspired by both the beauty of and human connections to landscapes, but has been continuously dissatisfied with his outdoor nature photographs. In acknowledging that traditional depictions of landscapes in paintings are constructed, he began to approach his photographs as abstract and emotional constructions that allow us to examine nature in relation to the self.
The key characteristic that came to dominate Chiarenza’s style was nyctophilia, or a preference for and comfort in darkness. His photographs do not offer familiar faces or landscapes; there is no evident cultural or psychological framework for the viewer to build their response. Rather, the lack of specificity and sense of timelessness reminds us that all photographs are constructions of reality that produce various interpretations relative to each viewer. Chiarenza’s work invites individual reflection by forcing us to examine the subliminal workings of the mind. In these photographs, nothing is absolute, leaving all realities subject to each observer.
This exhibition is curated by VMFA Director and CEO Alex Nyerges. These works were all a generous gift of the artist.
Join Carl Chiarenza, Heidi Katz, and Gabriella Chiarenza for a short-format documentary interview on the act of Making a Picture.
Director, producer, editor: Steve Osemwenkhae
Story Producer: Gabriella Chiarenza
4-minute abridged version also available here
February 5 - June 20, 2021
Throughout his career, Carl Chiarenza (American, b. 1935) has demonstrated that photographs can provide much more than just documentary evidence. Rather than create straightforward records of the cast-off materials that appear before his camera, Chiarenza photographically transforms them into new and provocative images. His photographs often bear little resemblance to their actual subjects and instead suggest mysterious worlds that viewers are invited to explore.
This retrospective exhibition spans the Rochester-based artist’s entire career, beginning with early photographs Chiarenza made as an undergraduate student at Rochester Institute of Technology in the 1950s and concluding with a large selection of his most recent work in collage. The exhibition will give visitors the opportunity to follow the continuities and ruptures in Chiarenza’s artistic journey as his career enters its seventh decade.
This exhibition is accompanied by a catalog with text by curator Will Green and Keith Davis.
18 Yosef Rivlin Street
Carl Chiarenza has been an important presence in American photography since the time that I began making images. For me, with my background in landscape oriented work, many of his images evoke a landscape that was never was but might come into being at any moment. He calls these “Landscapes of the Mind”.
His abstract images are constructed from torn paper, pieces of things, collages that he makes, photographs and often discards, saving only the image. Carl said that he once aspired to make photographs of the land, but when he went outside to photograph, he came back only with mosquito bites. In 1979, he began working in the studio, where he has remained ever since. Carl stated about his work, “what I’m doing is responding to things the way composers respond to sound.” His photographs are silent music. Chiarenza’s prints are in all the great public collections and have been exhibited widely; it is a privilege to have them here at Vision.
“Each episode in the Symphony,” Stravinsky wrote, “is linked in my imagination with a specific cinematographic impression of the war. But the Symphony is not programmatic. Composers combine notes—that is all. How and in what form the things of this world are impressed upon their music is not for them to say.”