December 8, 2021

Another Gallery in Town Keeps Museum in Focus

PHOTO-FOCUSED GALLERY: “Orlando,” an exhibit guest-curated by actor Tilda Swinton, pictured here, is the inaugural show at Art on Hulfish, a new exhibition space from the Princeton University Art Museum. (Photo by Sally Potter)

By Anne Levin

As construction continues on the new building for the Princeton University Art Museum designed by architect David Adjaye, representation in town is keeping the museum — anticipated to reopen in late 2024 — on people’s minds.

Art on Hulfish, a new gallery focused on contemporary photography, opened last weekend at 11 Hulfish Street. The new space joins Art@Bainbridge at 158 Nassau Street, and The Museum Store at 56 Nassau Street, both operated by the museum. The inaugural exhibit, “Orlando,” was guest-curated by actor Tilda Swinton, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, Orlando: A Biography; and Sally Potter’s 1992 film Orlando, in which Swinton starred. The museum held a screening of the film at the Princeton Garden Theatre last month.

“This happens to be the 50th anniversary of photography at the museum,” said James Steward, the museum’s director. “Our photography holdings are among the best in any museum in North America. So [the gallery] made sense for that reason.”

Steward and colleagues exhausted the possibilities of opening a gallery on campus before landing on the idea of a former storefront in town. Photography, which doesn’t require the kind of climate control used in displaying unique objects in a museum, made sense. Other media will also be included.

There will be four exhibits each year (until the new museum building opens) at the space. They will “consider issues of profound impact on 21st century life,” reads a release. The gallery encompasses some 3,000 square feet of exhibition space, with another 2,000 square feet to be devoted to public programming, ranging from drop-in activities to scheduled work with artists.

Admission is free.

Orlando is based on the story of a young aristocrat who lives for three centuries without aging, and changes gender along the way. “Woolf’s tale has long held sway over Swinton, who invited 11 photographers to create or gather work inspired by the novel and the film and their themes of expansiveness and the possibilities of human experience,” reads the release.

The exhibit has more than 50 photographs, including baroque inventions by Mickalene Thomas, layered images by Carmen Winant, and fragmented figural studies by Paul Mpagi Sepyua, among others.

“It’s less peculiar than it might look on the surface,” Steward said of Swinton’s involvement in the project. “She is someone who moves within the U.K.-based art world, so she is not new to the idea of curation. She is familiar with that world, certainly a sophisticated consumer and observer of images.”

Swinton seemed more inclined to go back to the source material of Woolf’s novel, even though she appeared in the 1992 film. “It’s not only a meditation on gender fluidity,” Steward said. “The book is about that, in the literal sense. But more deeply, the book is about the spectrum of human experience. That led her to a group of photographers and their interpretations.”

“Orlando” is on view through January 23. Next on the schedule is “Native America,” a group exhibition guest-curated by artist Wendy Red Star. Following that is a show centered around the question of photography as time-based media, “which really means video and the internet,” Steward said. “It’s about photographers who are really using the possibility of digital delivery as a way to think about constructing images.”

Displaying art in a storefront location is different from exhibiting in a museum. “People will probably be stopping in by happenstance,” Steward said. “So our feeling is that what happens there needs to be rewarding to someone who isn’t seeking it out because of a specific interest in a theme. We are thinking about that as we plan.”