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Monumental Exhibition at the Getty This Fall to Investigate How Art and Optical Devices Influence Ways of Seeing

Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen
Exhibitions Pavilion, J. Paul Getty Museum November 13, 2001-February 3, 2002

Press Preview: Tuesday, November 13, 2001, 9-11am

June 1, 2001

Los Angeles--Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen, a far-reaching and innovative exhibition of nearly 400 objects, will be on view in an exclusive presentation at the J. Paul Getty Museum from November 13, 2001, through February 3, 2002. Both playful and profound, Devices of Wonder will explore how works of art and optical devices have influenced the representation of nature over the past 400 years and how technologies continue to mediate our visual engagement with the world. The exhibition features a range of objects from the 17th through 20th centuries selected from the collections of the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Museum, other institutions, and individual collectors worldwide. It will point out relationships among artifacts, texts, and works of art to demonstrate the fluid boundaries between art history and fields such as optics, philosophy, natural history, and magic. Visitors will be invited to interact with many of the wondrous and surprising installations. As they make their way through Devices of Wonder, they will even be able to assemble elements of a specially designed gallery game that they can play later.

On view will be strange and uncanny optical instruments and the extraordinary images they generated or inspired, including magic lanterns, trompe l'oeil paintings, optical games, camera obscuras, perspective theaters, enormous panoramas, antique automata, and technologically advanced robots. The exhibition will also feature a Wunderkabinett (cabinet of wonders); rare natural history books; zoological, botanical, and mineral specimens; educational toys; historical prints; and works by contemporary artists such as Alexander Calder, Cindy Sherman, Diana Thater, James Turrell, Jeff Wall, and Lucas Samaras, whose Mirrored Room can be entered by visitors. A site-specific installation by Tiffany Holmes titled <> will use surveillance cameras and digital imagery to present an unexpected look at visitors to the exhibition.

Devices of Wonder will usher in the Getty Research Institute's 2001-2002 scholar year theme "Frames of Viewing: Perception, Experience, Judgment." Thomas Crow, director of the Getty Research Institute, said, "This compelling exhibition meshes technological, cultural, and aesthetic approaches to seeing and representing the world. I think visitors will find it both intellectually provocative and highly enjoyable as they form their own connections through the experience of Devices of Wonder."

Co-curated by Frances Terpak, curator of photographs at the Getty Research Institute, and Barbara Maria Stafford, William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor in the department of art history at the University of Chicago, the exhibition will be organized to explore the following topics: collections of natural wonders, or Wunderkammern; lenses for scientific study and entertainment; metamorphosis and anamorphosis (phenomena whereby images are unintelligible until viewed from a particular vantage point or reflected in a particular mirror); automata; shadow, light, and projected images; dissolving special effects; panoramas and other all-embracing views; and home entertainment, both historical and contemporary.

Exhibition Highlights

One of the highlights of Devices of Wonder will be a rare 17th-century German display cabinet (Augsburg, Germany, 1620-30) exquisitely fashioned of multiple woods, ivory, marble, semiprecious stones, enamel, tortoiseshell, and decorative carvings. Natural specimens as objects of study and wonder played an integral part in European intellectual life from the 16th through the 19th centuries. The acquisition, examination, and display of such items produced a community of collectors whose collections ranged in size from entire rooms (Wunderkammern) to tabletop cabinets (Wunderkabinette). The Augsburg cabinet is itself a compendium of organic materials, craftsmanship, and cultural knowledge, but when filled with an encyclopedic collection of artificial and natural wonders and crowned especially for this exhibition with a modern assemblage of shells and minerals, it will be transformed into a diminutive Wunderkammer.

Convex and concave mirrors that enlarge, diminish, and distort the world, along with flat mirrors that reflect it more accurately, figured prominently in early Wunderkammern and later reverberated in the world of contemporary art. Lucas Samaras' 1966 Mirrored Room will be moved for this exhibition from its present home at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. Measuring 8 by 8 by 10 feet and completely clad with mirrors inside and out, Mirrored Room surprises, unnerves, and amuses the visitor. Like early experimenters who built mirrored boxes to study the angles and physical laws of reflection as well as the psychology of reflected images, Samaras constructed a chamber that reflects the viewer and also makes the viewer self-reflect: Mirrored Room has the effect of putting people on stage, projecting them into a space beyond "normal" reality as they approach, enter, or retreat.

Android Clarinetist, a life-size robot created by Cornelis Jacobus van Oeckelen in 1838, will be featured in the automata section of the exhibition. Large-scale automata, conceived as mechanical wonders and designed to enact allegorical performances, heightened the fascination of Renaissance and Mannerist gardens and reached the peak of their popularity in the 18th century. Van Oekelen's android toured the major cities of the Netherlands as well as Boston and New York, performing for the general public by playing four classical pieces on a 32-note clarinet.

Related book

To accompany Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen, the Getty Research Institute will publish a 418-page catalog of the same title. Barbara Maria Stafford's comprehensive essay analyzes the complex links between old and new media. Her investigation of the inventive machines humans have used to enhance visual perception is complemented by 31 short essays in which Frances Terpak tracks the often surprising connections among individual items in the exhibition. Designed by Bruce Mau, the catalog for Devices of Wonder will feature 78 color and 67 black-and-white illustrations, plus a detailed checklist of the exhibition. It will be available in the Getty Museum bookstore, via the Internet at, or by calling 800-223-3431 (paper: $39.95).

Note to editors: Color images available upon request.

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About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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The Getty Research Institute is an operating program of the J. Paul Getty Trust. It serves education in the broadest sense by increasing knowledge and understanding about art and its history through advanced research. The Research Institute provides intellectual leadership through its research, exhibition, and publication programs and provides service to a wide range of scholars worldwide through residencies, fellowships, online resources, and a Research Library. The Research Library - housed in the 201,000-square-foot Research Institute building designed by Richard Meier - is one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world. The general library collections (secondary sources) include almost 900,000 volumes of books, periodicals, and auction catalogues encompassing the history of Western art and related fields in the humanities. The Research Library's special collections include rare books, artists' journals, sketchbooks, architectural drawings and models, photographs, and archival materials.