Robert Blanchon, Jim Dine, Eve Fowler, Storm Tharp, and Sara Jaffe: DORIAN

Robert Blanchon, Jim Dine, Eve Fowler, Storm Tharp, and Sara Jaffe: DORIAN

Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College

Storm Tharp, Cadre (detail), 2017. Ink, fabric dye, acrylic paint, charcoal, and spray paint on paper, 30 x 22 inches each. Courtesy the artist and PDX CONTEMPORARY ART. 

November 3, 2017
Robert Blanchon, Jim Dine, Eve Fowler, Storm Tharp, and Sara Jaffe
Rereading Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”
November 3–December 10, 2017
Opening reception: November 3, 5–7pm
Public symposium: November 4, 10am–3pm, including a communal luncheon with presenters. Free.
Psychology building room 105, Reed College

Oscar Wilde’s only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray chronicles an Orphic descent into art’s symbolic “soul,” examining the nature of human-object relations with fearless imagination and fantasy. Written during the waning of the Victorian era, the novel presents a morbid case study of “Art for art’s sake,” the mantra of Aestheticism articulated by Walter Pater in the late 1860s.

In keeping with Wilde’s philosophical, social, and aesthetic critique, the artists in Dorian examine art’s capacity to figure and expand the representation and expression of the self—through art, and as art—in response to moral and political issues as critical today as they were in Wilde’s time. The larger exhibition project assembles artists, writers, and scholars for a public conversation with symposium attendees. A commissioned work of fiction by writer Sara Jaffe accompanies the exhibition. 

The first edition of Dorian Gray was published in London in 1890 in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. In Victorian England, the work’s portrayal of same-sex desire caused a swift and angry response—so much so that Wilde was forced to significantly alter the work before it could be released in book form in 1891. Eventually, the novel was used against Wilde during two of his three trials for “gross indecency.” On May 25, 1895 Wilde was convicted and sentenced to two years of hard labor at Reading Gaol, where he wrote one of his greatest works—De Profundis—an epistolary reflection on his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. Weakened by prison and penniless, Wilde died of meningitis in 1900 at forty-six, a victim of social and legal prejudice. 

The Picture of Dorian Gray’s titular protagonist is a bewitching young Londoner who sits for a portrait by artist Basil Hayward. The completed painting is deemed a “masterpiece” by Hayward and his friend Lord Henry Wotton—a wealthy and narcissistic aesthete. Under Wotton’s corrupting influence, Dorian begins to covet his portrait’s arrested vision of youthful beauty and charisma. In a fit of despair Dorian beseeches the painting to grow old instead of him. Mysteriously, Dorian’s wish comes true, and under the influence of Wotton, his life turns to hedonism.

As Dorian’s behavior becomes increasingly violent and sadistic—breaking hearts, committing murder—the portrait transforms into a bloodied and smirking phantasm. In a violent act of iconoclasm, Dorian destroys his debased image by slicing it with a knife, assuming that it is the work of art that must pay for his inhumanity. But it is Dorian who dies from the painting’s wounds, and the portrait returns to its original state having shed its human baggage. 

During the public symposium, Portland-based artist Storm Tharp and writer Sara Jaffe will present their work alongside: Eve Fowler, Los Angeles-based artist; Daniel A. Novak, Associate Professor of English, University of Mississippi; and Kimberly J. Stern, Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The symposium is organized by Jay Dickson, Professor of English and Humanities, Reed College; and Stephanie Snyder, John and Anne Hauberg Director and Curator, Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College. DORIAN is curated by Stephanie Snyder.

The symposium is generously supported by the Department of English, and the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, Reed College.

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Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College
November 3, 2017

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