Emmet Gowin: Hidden Likeness at The Morgan Library & Museum

Image Above: ©Emmet Gowin (Edith and Elijah, Danville, Virginia, 1968. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery)

To yield: a girl on a grass field, a hand over her right eye, the other on her cheek. A group of dolls radiate from her, a recursive pattern of forms. The covering of her face echoed in the doll by her leg, the fold of a dress obscuring. She is off-center, to the left. Her eyes are closed and beside her, a dog, barely-noticed, nudges into frame. In front of a projection of this image, Emmet Gowin claims it as his first in which, “Some real seeing was done.” The girl is Nancy, his niece, and Gowin took this picture at Nancy’s insistence. Gowin explains: “Nothing will obey. The only way to get along with Nature is to yield.”

4©Emmet Gowin (Left:Edith, 2004 (Rain Droplets in a Web); Right: Edith, Danville, Virginia, 1967. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery)
Raimondi, Marcantonio, ca. 1480-ca. 1534, Dancing Girl Seen From the Back. Verso: Sketches of the Lower Half of a Draped Figure and of an Architectural Detail? [drawing], 16th century, I, 42(Left: Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn's Woman with a Child Descending a Staircase, ca. 1636; Right: Marcantonio Raimondi's Dancing Girl Seen from the Back, after 1507. Courtesy The Morgan Library & Museum.)

To yield: in another photograph, Nancy and a boy, Dwayne, wrestle in a yard. Grass sticks to the pale plate of the boy’s back, the girl’s legs. His head locked into her neck, she cups his ear with one hand, pressing his thigh with the other: a pushing out, and a bringing forth. The message is clear: after the tumult, intimacy. The only way to get along...

Blake, William, 1757-1827, Behemoth and Leviathan [drawing], 1805-1810, 2001.77 (Left:William Blake's Behemoth and Leviathan (illustration for the Book of Job), ca. 1805–10; Right: Simon Bening's Annunciation, Da Costa Hours, Ghent, Belgium, ca. 1515. Courtesy The Morgan Library & Museum.)
Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750.Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe, BWV 197a : autograph manuscript, 1728? Heineman MS 10(Left:Johann Sebastian Bach's Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe (Glory to God in the Highest), BWV 197a, 1728; Right: Johann Hartlieb (active 1450), Die Kunst Chiromantia (The Art of Chiromancy). Augsburg: Georg Schapf, ca. 1475. Courtesy The Morgan Library & Museum.)

Gowin pairs his photographs with artifacts from the Morgan Library collection: medieval manuscripts, Renaissance figure studies, William Blake prints, Bach music sheets, etc. This is not to catalogue Gowin’s influences, nor attempt to connect his work to any canon. It is not comparison. Gowin makes it clear that many of the specific works chosen he had never seen before. The “hidden likeness” of the show’s title is an unconscious stream of forms that runs through all works of art, which all art is an attempt to reveal. It comes from a quote of scientist Jacob Bronkowski, “all scientific discoveries and works of art are explorations...of a hidden likeness,” but it is the same thing that Whitman calls “the origin of all poems.” Bronkowski also says “the act of creation” occurs when the artist “presents two aspects of nature and fuses them.” Gowin takes Bronkowski’s cue: he fuses, and creates.

5©Emmet Gowin (Left:Tomb, Petra, Jordan, 1982, Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery; Right: Male Figure Before a Goddess Drawing Aside Her Mantle, Syria, ca. 1720-1650 B.C. Hermatite. Striding Bull, Persia, Achaemenid period, ca. 550-330 B.C. Chalcedony. Horned Deity (?) Seated Before a Shrine, with a Nude Hero Attacking a Lion; Entwined Lion-Headed Snakes, Mesopotamia, Early Dynastic II period, ca. 2750-2600 B.C. Lapis lazuli. Courtesy of The Morgan Library & Museum )
6 ©Emmet Gowin (Left: Copper Ore Tailing, Globe, Arizona, 1988; Center: Emmet Gowin, Mariposas Nocturnas Index #25, Bolivia, 2009; Right: Edith in Panama, Blakean Conversation, 2007. Courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery )


12. Gowin French Guiana©Emmet Gowin (French Guiana, Insect Movement, 2010.. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery)


Everything already exists. Art does not bring into; it brings closer what exists already. It resolves our distinct moment to the modal continuum of moments from which we distinguish it, of which the conscious world is just the most immediately experienced part. It revolves around this origin, but can only call forth a shape, a feature, an idea of its extent, a beam of light on the ocean at night. As soon as this feature brought into definition, into vocabulary, it is somehow inaccurate, incomplete: it’s gone. It can only be witnessed as indefinite, passively. The “real seeing” Gowin refers to is this receptive witnessing. Photography places its sudarium upon the face of the world and, from the shifting waves of light, gathers an impression, and lifts an image: the hidden likeness. After the tumult, intimacy. Gowin’s images are witness to a flow, from within and without, a bringing forth, a pushing out. Nothing will obey. The sight is revealed in yielding.

Emmet Gowin at Morgan-1 Emmet Gowin at Morgan-3 Emmet Gowin at Morgan-6 Emmet Gowin at Morgan-8 Emmet Gowin at Morgan-11 Emmet Gowin at Morgan-13

by Conor O'Brien

All Opening Images ©Paul Mclaren