January 5 - January 30, 2010
Stephen Wirtz Gallery presents Morphology, a new series of large-scale photographic works by Catherine Wagner.
In 2008 Catherine Wagner was invited by the California Academy of Sciences to be artist-in-residence, supported by the LEF
Foundation. This exhibition features selections from an on-going body of work that draws from the Academy’s collections
of specimens. For the works exhibited at Stephen Wirtz Gallery, Wagner spent most of her time in the Botany and
Entomology departments. She began with the question of what the natural world looked like 400 million years ago,
exploring the first seed-bearing plants that became huge forests. She also drew inspiration from Albertus Seba, the famous
18th Century collector of curiosities.
Wagner has photographed hundreds of plant and insect species whose relatives existed during the Devonian Age and has
reconstructed them into a new form. In these works, they have been decontextualized as specimens and recontextualized as
formal, calligraphic gestures that are interrelated and form a new visual language that references our connection to the
landscape. She draws inspiration from the lyrical “chalk board” paintings of Cy Twombly, as well as Bay Area wind patterns
and ideas of mapmaking.
Together, these photographs resemble the visual patterns of writing systems, drawing from the idea that writing is a form of
representing abstract concepts. Wagner has always been interested in how knowledge is acquired and transmitted. Here she
seeks to explore notions of communication through a fabricated linguistic form. These works attempt to communicate
through gesture and shared experience the natural world.
The specimens in these works are grouped according to their genus but visually transcend their taxonomies. As in the
collections of Seba, who indulged in fanciful arrangements of his specimens, these works are non-scientific constructions.
The series as a whole comprises a modern day Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities.
Wagner is also included in the SFMOMA exhibitions 75 Years of Looking Forward: The Anniversary Show (December 19,
2009 – January 16, 2011) and TheView From Here (January 16 – June 27, 2010), as well as the Real and HyperReal
exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Art (Jan. 30 – August 2010). Wagner was named one of Time magazine’s Fine Arts Innovators of the Year for 2001. Her work is represented in numerous
public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; among others. Monographs include
Cross Sections (2002), Art & Science: Investigating Matter (1996), Home and Other Stories (1993), and American