PALACE GARDENS: A conceptual exhibition on memory and time


From its well-attended reception on Feb. 17 until March 24, the Beatrice M. Haggerty Gallery presents a unique, dual exhibition: PALACE GARDENS.

The show features two artists, Martin Lang and Thomas Wharton, and their respective works utilizing multiple materials such as laser-etched aluminum and multimedia objects to photographs and sculpture.

John Watson, gallery director at the University of Dallas as well as a sculptor himself, had an integral connection to the showing. Lang, one of two artists, was Watson’s advisee and student while both were at Webster University in Missouri. At the time, Watson was a professor of sculpture.

“We began talking about this about a year ago,” said Watson of the installation. Lang and Watson met while at graduate school in Tennessee, and Lang suggested Watson for a co-exhibitor.

Lang said that he began the work for this show about two years ago, with pieces beginning as “one-off” projects.

“The panels became a means of structure,” he said. Amidst his academic career and job searching, they provided a sort of outlet where he could simply focus on various interests to feature in the pieces.

The aluminum as the material for the laser printed images, consistent in every piece, borrows from the commercial and industrial style of the present day, said the artist. They were intended to appear as signs in an office building, which lends to the question that drives Lang’s work: “Just what is it that makes today’s world so different, so appealing?” 

According to the gallery exhibition statement, Lang’s work “asks why objects, locations, and trends were created, why they hold importance in contemporary life, and how he as an artist can exploit, twist, or manipulate them for his own intrigue.”

“The artist’s daily practice, art historical references, personal anecdotes, and hobbies” are all included in the show’s imagery.

One of Lang’s pieces, titled “Eulogy” — consisting of a four-paneled image consisting of four different planes taking off, with a baseball card mounted in the center — was confusing without context.

When asked during the gallery reception about the significance of the work, Lang answered that it was centered on his interests. His family traveled by the specific airline featured in the images, Trans World Airlines, which is defunct as of 2001. The baseball card was a rookie card of a Cardinals player that died in a crash after his first season.  Lang described the card as being meaningful because it was a “relic of a career that didn’t take off.” 

Lang’s other work featured interesting use of mixed media such as videos and speakers alongside the aluminum panels, which were all divided into nine quadrants. They were reminiscent of windows, said the artist, and so provided a sense of viewing into somewhere new. One piece, “Range,” featured laser-etched aluminum and a monitor with a video of the artist swinging a golf club.

Wharton’s work, being less apparently symbolic, was composed of large-scale photographs, oil paintings and sculpture. 

While beginning as an abstract painter, he would utilize Photoshop to make any necessary changes to a piece. When he began to work with sculpture, Wharton learned that it’s not possible to alter a physical piece of art in the same way. 

The large-scale photographs featured in PALACE GARDENS were taken in his backyard in Nebraska and are intentionally self-referential. The wooden frames for each photograph are tapered to specifically match some aspect of the image, and the choice of wood color and style of the frame is also based on the shot.

The intentionality of the frames “make the pieces individual without making them ornamental,” said Wharton.

The photographs all feature the same subject: a pool with a spindle in the center. All photographs were taken from the same angle, but during different seasons and times of day. The pieces’ titles reflect this, with “Spring, Late Afternoon,” being one example. In the two winter shots, shift of light is important to the frame. 

“The shadow marks a time of day,” said the artist, “one we can’t go back to.”

Wharton has evidently been interested in time for much of his career. In earlier works, he said, he worked with painting oils on top of a photograph. The image changes over time and the photograph itself is affected by the chemical composition of the oil paints. In the gallery exhibition statement, it is noted that this exhibition is “concerned with how light and shadow define physical space, and create illusions, reflections, and moods.”

The large-scale photographs serve as formal, highly-constructed and symmetrical pieces, said the artist. The paintings, however, are more causal and asymmetrical. 

Furthermore, the subject of the works is on display: sculpted wooden “spindles,” used as sundials, are press-fit into pedestals or other receptacles. These symmetrical objects reflect and diffuse light,” as noted in the gallery statement.

The sculpted spindles, the subject of the full-scale photographs as well as smaller oil paintings of the same subject from different angles, are on display in the gallery in conjunction with the aforementioned works. The trio of media works to allow the viewer a more immersive understanding of what is a deceptively simple image.

When asked about their decision to name their show, the artists noted that their chosen title mirrored a shared aesthetic. The image of a palace garden invokes the imagery of squares. Squares operate as something that can be outside and inside, as well as reflective, and serve as an architectural construct.


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