artists & participants

press release

A hall of mirrors engraved with a ruined doppelgänger of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Ethereal illumination. A building that comes to life as if imbued with supernatural powers. Shattering mirrors. Burning buildings. These are just a few of the descriptions of Brooklyn-based artist Ellen Harvey's upcoming installation, Mirror, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts' from October 15, 2005, to January 8, 2006. The installation will be on view in the rotunda of the 1876 historic landmark building, holding a literal mirror up to the Victorian Gothic, Frank Furness and George Hewitt-designed building.

In the installation—a nearly true to form re-creation of the elegant central stair hall featuring reverse-engraved mirrors and video projection—visitors find themselves in an astonishing environment that is both a variation on the Academy's interior and an entirely new artwork. Playing with the idea of the representational foundations of the Academy’s original teaching methods, Harvey bestows upon the Academy the ultimate representational art work: a mirror. She also offers the viewer a seductively narcissistic experience, where he or she, according to Harvey, becomes a “star in a secret, abandoned place that is your own—your reflection also becomes the art.”

Each of the four walls of the rotunda are hung with 12-by-9-foot mirrors, each composed of 16 mirror panels, hand engraved by Harvey on the reverse, that when assembled as a grid, form a view of each corner of the Academy’s soaring stair hall. The reverse engraved drawings are illuminated from behind so the lines of the drawings glow. The mirror installation is accompanied by a central video projection, projected in the same dimensions as the mirror panels, that documents the process of Harvey engraving the mirrors and shows the frontal view of the stair hall. Visible in each of the 16 incremental drawings is the video camera in the act of recording the drawing coming to life. During the drawing’s evolution on the video screen, the artist is visible only as a shadow that temporarily obstructs the glowing lines. At the conclusion of the hour-long video, all 16 mirrors shatter.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that the Academy interior depicted in the mirror drawings and central video projection is far from accurate. Instead of faithfully representing the Academy’s carefully maintained central stair hall, Mirror showcases a space that has become the kind of picturesque ruin from which Victorian Gothic architecture took its inspiration. In Harvey’s version, plants have sprouted, arches crumble, plaster deteriorates, and boards cover the museum’s entry doors. The Academy-as-ruin extends beyond the mirror drawings and video and onto the very walls of the museum itself. Using faux-finishing techniques, Harvey ages the walls of the rotunda gallery, complimenting the video and mirror engravings hanging in the same space.

Ellen Harvey may be best known for her New York Beautification Project (1999-2001), the subject of a new book by the same name, for which she painted 40 exquisitely detailed oil reproductions of 19th-century landscape paintings on graffiti sites throughout New York City. She is also known for her installations in the “museum interventionist” mode for institutions such as the Whitney Museum, the Center for Contemporary Art, Warsaw, and the Secession, Vienna.

The exhibition is curated by Alex Baker, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Academy, and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog that includes Harvey’s previous projects with essays by Baker and Shamim M. Momin, Associate Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. The catalog will be available in December in the Academy’s retail store Portfolio and also through Distributed Art Publishers, New York in spring 2006.


only in german

Ellen Harvey: MIRROR
Kurator: Alex Baker