A Year-Long Exhibition at the Clark Art Institute Highlights the Work of Contemporary Artist Erin Shirreff


Williamstown, Mass. — The Clark Art Institute is featuring a new year-long exhibition highlighting the work of contemporary artist Erin Shirreff (Canadian, b. 1975). Erin Shirreff: Remainders presents photographs, prints, and video that examine Shirreff’s fascination with the mythmaking behind art history through a practice that spans analog and digital media, two and three dimensions, and still and moving images. The free exhibition is on view in public spaces in the Lower Clark Center and the Reading Room of the Manton Research Center through January 2, 2022.

“The opportunity to present some of Erin Shirreff’s recent works is an exciting extension of our ongoing engagement with contemporary artists,” said Olivier Meslay, Hardymon Director of the Clark Art Institute. “Shirreff’s work graces our public spaces with modernist forms that are visually appealing but also have both conceptual weight and technical rigor. We look forward to sharing them with our visitors.”  

The exhibition was curated by Robert Wiesenberger, associate curator of contemporary projects for the Clark. Wiesenberger notes that “Erin Shirreff’s work always rewards close looking, as things often aren’t quite what they seem. It also invites us to reflect on how art history is written, and its dogma is formed, in ways that bear directly on the Clark’s mission as both a museum and a place for research and higher education.” 

The exhibition features a selection of photographs from Erin Shirreff’s ongoing series Figs., whose title refers to the way art history books are commonly illustrated (e.g., “See figure 1”). To make them, Shirreff constructs small objects from colored plaster that evoke modernist sculpture or even architecture; their scale is ambiguous. She then photographs the objects, slices, and recombines the images using editing software and prints them at large scale on a single sheet. Shirreff creases the prints down the center to resemble an open book, but the discontinuity of the images suggests missing pages. While each Fig. offers an incomplete picture, their textures and compositions also suggest new possibilities that might arise from reproduction. These objects are on view in the Reading Room of the Clark’s Manton Research Center, with the library stacks visible just beyond. 

In the Lower Clark Center, visitors will encounter two large-format dye sublimation prints—photographs printed on cut pieces of aluminum arranged three dimensionally within a deep-set frame. In Bronze (Slivka, Burckhardt, Busch, Laocoön), Shirreff’s focus is on how sculpture can be transformed by the camera lens and printing process. The names listed in the title register multiple layers of source material: Shirreff’s starting point was a picture of a small bronze sculpture titled Laocöon, by the Abstract Expressionist artist David Slivka. The photograph was taken by the photographer Rudy Burckhardt, and Shirreff found it in a heavily discounted, or remaindered, sculpture anthology edited by art historian Julia Busch. Shirreff scanned and enlarged the image to such an extent that the grain of its halftone printing and the traces of the sculptor’s hand are more recognizable than the sculpture itself. She then printed it onto aluminum sheets, which she cut into various shapes and layered within a deep-set frame. What remains from these transformations is a collection of unexpected details that complicates our understanding of the original artwork.

Four-color café terrace (Caro, –––––, Moorhouse, Matisse) reflects Shirreff’s continued interest in the relationship between an artwork and its representation in another medium. Her title captures multiple sources: Shirreff’s work is based on a photograph of modernist sculptor Anthony Caro’s The Moroccans (1984–87). That picture, taken by an unknown photographer (hence the “–––––” in the title), appeared in a monograph edited by Paul Moorhouse. Caro’s sculpture is based on a painting of the same title by Henri Matisse that reimagines a café terrace he saw in Tangier (1915–16). Shirreff printed the photograph onto sheets of aluminum, cut these into shapes that resemble the simplified geometry in Matisse’s painting, and rearranged them in a frame. Though many times removed, Shirreff’s handmade and digital interventions link all these sources to their point of origin: “the terrace of the little café of the casbah,” as Matisse described it. This work also appears in the Lower Clark Center. 

The silent video Still features a collection of the artist’s graphite-colored, poured plaster forms. Some of these objects have appeared in her other work, such as the Fig. series in the Manton Reading Room, while others are based on widely recognizable objects. Using a single raking light source to produce a deep black background, Shirreff photographed the arrangements in her studio and digitally stitched the images together to create a seamless picture that scrolls slowly across the screen. As the video pans across the objects, and some fade unexpectedly into the background, the title appears to be a misnomer. Still insists on a slow, careful, and perhaps even meditative experience of sculpture. This video also appears in the Lower Clark Center. 

The Clark has highlighted the works of contemporary artists through special exhibitions for more than forty years. The Shirreff exhibition marks the second year-long installation in the Clark’s public spaces that Wiesenberger has organized as part of an ongoing series. The first was Velo Revelo, an exhibition by Pia Camil (Mexican, b. 1980). 

On March 10 at 12:30 pm (EST), Shirreff will join Wiesenberger in a live Zoom presentation to discuss her practice and the works on view at the Clark. Advance registration is required. Visit clarkart.edu/events for details. 

Erin Shirreff was born in Kelowna, British Columbia, and lives and works in Montreal. Trained as a sculptor, with an MFA from Yale University, she consistently works between photography, sculpture, and video to explore the relationship between objects and their representations. Her work has recently been the subject of solo exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Kunsthalle Basel; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and Albright-Knox Gallery. Shirreff is represented by Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York and Bradley Ertaskiran, Montreal. 

Shirreff’s works are on view in public spaces at the Clark and may be viewed during open hours without an admission fee.  

About the Clark

The Clark Art Institute, located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, is one of a small number of institutions globally that is both an art museum and a center for research, critical discussion, and higher education in the visual arts. Opened in 1955, the Clark houses exceptional European and American paintings and sculpture, extensive collections of master prints and drawings, English silver, and early photography. Acting as convener through its Research and Academic Program, the Clark gathers an international community of scholars to participate in a lively program of conferences, colloquia, and workshops on topics of vital importance to the visual arts. The Clark library, consisting of more than 275,000 volumes, is one of the nation’s premier art history libraries. The Clark also houses and co-sponsors the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.