Artist Stephanie Syjuco finds new meaning in Wadsworth Atheneum collections in MATRIX 190
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Artist Stephanie Syjuco finds new meaning in Wadsworth Atheneum collections in MATRIX 190
Stephanie Syjuco, Still Life Construct: Background as Foreground (staff photographer’s tools, props, and supports, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art), 2022. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artist, RYAN LEE Gallery, and Catharine Clark Gallery.

HARTFORD, CONN.- Artist Stephanie Syjuco explores America’s early history and the creation of its national identity in the new installation MATRIX 190 / Image Trafficking opening at the Wadsworth on October 7, and which will continue through to January 8, 2032. Immersive photographic works investigate mythical ideas of America as depicted in some of the museum’s best-known Hudson River School paintings, collected by Daniel Wadsworth as contemporary art while the artists were living. MATRIX 190 / Image Trafficking considers how ideas about American nationhood and identity have shifted since Thomas Cole, Alfred Bierstadt, and other noted 19th century artists painted the American landscape.

Syjuco worked with several of the Wadsworth’s departments tasked with the administration and care of its collection. The artist assessed analog files such as color transparencies, slides, and photocopies, then photographed them anew, turning her digital files into large-scale photographic murals and unique prints. Syjuco produces new readings of history through her layered compositions that focus, confuse, and conceal what she found.

“By rephotographing the outdated and obsolete celluloid reproductions of the Wadsworth’s own collection of Hudson River School paintings, this body of work focuses on the institutional markings, notations, copyright notices, and image cropping to examine the museum’s hand in commodifying and circulating a story of America,” says Stephanie Syjuco.

Among the artists Syjuco implicated are Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, Hiram Powers, and John Vanderlyn—whose painting The Murder of Jane McCrea (1804) is one of the works from the Wadsworth’s collection most frequently requested for reproduction. For this installation, Syjuco photographed a negative of the painting, offering an alternative reading of the image with reversed values of the figures’ skin tones. Her critical response to these grand portraits, romanticized landscapes, and dramatic history paintings asserts the role they play in perpetuating racist and patriarchal narratives like “Manifest Destiny,” a term coined in 1845 to describe the belief that it was American destiny to colonize the continent—a pursuit achieved through discriminating laws, violent displacements, genocides, and wars.

“Stephanie Syjuco’s MATRIX exhibition brings new life to the issues of this pivotal period, asking timely questions about the connection between photography, the museum, and America’s national identity,” said Jared Quinton, Marsted Fellow for Contemporary Art at the Wadsworth. “While Syjuco draws our attention to how the Wadsworth’s early collections have been photographed, and how and where those photographs have circulated since, she does so as in invitation to viewers to draw their own conclusions.”

In a behind-the-scenes investigation of the Wadsworth’s photography studio, Syjuco created a still life composition from tools and props traditionally used for the documentation and display of art objects. Photographed on a chroma-key green backdrop, more familiarly known as a green-screen, the artist uses the distinctive color to signal ideas about truth and falsehood in images.

“Through Stephanie Syjuco’s lens, signature works from the Wadsworth’s nineteenth-century American collection come under scrutiny as problematic records of America’s colonial past. Her artistic process has helped me re-contextualize these works of art for our visitors,” said Erin Monroe, Krieble Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Wadsworth. “Image Trafficking has reaffirmed efforts at the museum to revisit aspects of the historic American collections and exhume mythical notions about America and American identity.”

“We are thrilled that Stephanie Syjuco’s MATRIX exhibition offers an alternative lens through which to read our historic collections. Syjuco’s project presents new readings of familiar works of art, giving voice to perspectives that have been overlooked or ignored,” said Dr. Matthew Hargraves, Director of the Wadsworth. “Image Trafficking is a part of our ongoing efforts to actively explore the past in order to inspire conversations in the present.”

Since its inception in 1975, MATRIX has been a forum for celebrating cutting-edge art and artists at the Wadsworth. The first exhibition series of its kind, the Wadsworth's MATRIX program has inspired more than 50 similar programs dedicated to contemporary art at museums across the country. Syjuco’s MATRIX project marks the 190th installation of the pioneering series.

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