Hanging off kilter in 21: Selections of Contemporary Art from the Brooklyn Museum is Valerie Hegarty’s Fallen Bierstadt (2007). Looking like a charred painting that’s disintegrating, one corner of the ornate gold frame appears to lift off the wall while the lower half of the canvas and frame appear to have crumbled into pieces of debris that lie in small piles on the floor. What appears to be a painting is in reality a highly illusionistic facsimile crafted by Hegarty out of ordinary materials including paper, foam core, and wood.
Fallen Bierstadt refers to a painting entitled Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite (in the collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art) by Albert Bierstadt, the renowned 19th century American landscape painter. I was gratified to learn that Hegarty, who lives across the street from the Museum, has frequently visited American Identities on the 5th floor where our own examples of Bierstadt’s paintings can be found. The title, Fallen Bierstadt, seems to refer both to the physical appearance of the piece and to the end of a heroic tradition of landscape painting. By mimicking the high degree of illusionism found in Bierstadt’s paintings, Hegarty’s fabricated object reveals her own skill as virtuoso.
While Patrick Amsellem and I were installing the exhibition, we invited Hegarty to place the debris on the floor as she wished and the placement was documented by our conservation department so that we can replicate it whenever the work is on view at the museum.