The Rapture

The Department of Art & Art History at Stanford University presents The Rapture, on view from October 8 to December 8, with a reception on Friday, October 11, from 5:30-7:30 PM, at the Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery. This solo exhibition by Joel Leivick, the Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor in Photography, features his new photographic works from the Pantheon.

The enormously entertaining exhibition of 45 color images is an unexpected surprise and deviation from Leivick’s past work, which has generally been characterized by large format landscape prints in black and white.  While in Italy last autumn as a 2012 Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome, Leivick had planned a project involving beachfront architecture in Ostia, or, potentially, one centered on gardens in the funky postwar outskirts of Rome.  But on his first day there, taking in the sights of one of his favorite places in Rome, another project emerged: The Pantheon…and particularly its visitors.

During the four days Leivick was on location in the Pantheon, he witnessed visitors steadily flowing in and out of the building.  Men and women, girls and boys, old and young, tourists and locals; most were strangers, all coming together to marvel at the 2,000 year old structure.  The commonality of these visitors, all with focused expressions, wielding their cameras, smart phones, and video cameras, was their intense focus on capturing the perfect digital image representative of their individual perspective of the Pantheon, which left them oblivious to Leivick’s own digital pursuit.

Leivick’s photographs, primarily displayed on the walls of the Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery except for a choice few framed in plexiglass and aerially suspended in the center of the gallery, aren’t staged or choreographed; they aren’t of people doing incredibly remarkable things, and in fact, the Pantheon itself, the gleaming object in all of their cameras’ eyes, is instead but a backdrop to Leivick’s images.

Leivick’s real conquest was capturing the Pantheon’s patrons in all of their pop-culture glory.  With their Homer Simpson and SpongeBob T-shirts, their polka dot iPhone cases, and their flashy sunglasses, all of which are juxtaposed against the nearly 2,000 year old Roman temple.  This collection of images is fundamentally a 2012 global time capsule, capturing life as it was on those four October days, paying little attention to humanity’s vanity, but instead highlighting our modern existence in the present while in rapture of our past.

Leivick has exhibited in both solo and group shows including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Scott Nichols Gallery and the William Sawyer Gallery, both in San Francisco, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon, the Emory University Art Gallery, the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Art, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, among others.

Leivick received his Master of Fine Arts from Yale University. He is the Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor in Photography, and has been with the Department of Art & Art History at Stanford University since 1981.  Leivick teaches photography courses and MFA Graduate Seminars, and he is the author of Carrara: The Marble Quarries of Tuscany, published by the Stanford University Press (1999).