Thinly Veiled at Cassilhaus
One of the highlights of attending the Click! Photo Festival was being introduced to Cassilhaus, a stunning architectural home in the woods of North Carolina that is also a chapel for art and a sanctuary for artists, offering exhibition space and artist residencies. I attended a very special evening at Cassilhaus a few months back, warmly greeted by the creators Ellen Cassilly and Frank Konhaus and experienced a world where art and life truly intersect in a profound and unique way.
I am always curious to understand the focus of a photography collection-what elements or subject matter collectors are drawn to again and again. Tonight, a new exhibition opens at Cassilhaus titled Thinly Veiled, running through April 15th, 2018, with work culled from their impressive collection. The exhibit is a self-reflective investigation into the forces and themes that have shaped the Cassilhaus collection and the “visual hooks that got his attention at some visceral level and won’t let go. The exhibition features 54 works by 58 artists including Walter Angehrn, Trent Davis Bailey, Carolle Bénitah, Rachel Boillot, Wynn Bullock, Ed Burtynsky, Teju Cole, Petah Coyne, Eliot Dudik, Mitch Epstein, Jim Goldberg, Heather Gordon, Kathy Grove, Todd Hido, Michael Kenna, André Kertész, Lisa McCarty, Rebecca Norris Webb, Deborah Oropallo, Luis Gonzales Palma, Rachel Papo, Pam Pecchio, Rachel Perry, Tamara Reynolds, Alison Rossiter, Jerry Siegel, Brandon Thibodeaux, Burk Uzzle, and James Welling.
To note: Cassilhaus is not a public gallery with public hours so if you are interested in seeing the exhibition, please set up an appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
As their website states:
Cassilhaus is a home, a singular piece of architecture, a lifelong arts project, and a love-filled partnership between Ellen Cassilly and Frank Konhaus. Ellen is an architect and community activist and Frank is an AV System Designer, documentary film producer, and arts entrepreneur.
After a five-year land search and a three-year design process, Cassilhaus was born as dream home/art gallery/artist studio and residency in the woods between Durham and Chapel Hill, NC and has grown into an exciting nexus for arts activity and community in the Triangle region. Cassilhaus hosts a diverse exhibition program and a multi-disciplinary residency program which bring extraordinary artists from our region and around the world to pollinate and stimulate our little corner of the art world.
Curated by Frank Konhaus, Thinly Veiled shares a collection of photographs that reflect “literal and metaphorical veils that call the viewer to look through them to the subject beyond. Woven into these potent images, viewers may discover thinly veiled grief, racism, defiance, family trauma, shared history, censorship, environmental toxicity, and others or perhaps they will encounter simple beauty.”
Curator and collector Frank Konhaus shares his thoughts on the selection of work for this exhibition:
“So what do you collect?” As a photography collector I get this question a lot and it frustrates me that I don’t have a simple and definitive answer. While the Cassilhaus Collection certainly could be described as catholic, I think there is an undeniable “look and feel” that binds the work in our collection and an I-know-it-when-I-see-it ethos that guides my selection process. This exhibition continues my nearly two decade-long explorations of the visual hooks that grab me at some visceral level and won’t let go.
More than ten years ago I curated my first show from our collection called Picture in Picture. It was my first attempt to reflect on the collection as a whole and codify my collecting focus. I began by examining the most recent images we had acquired for clues of a shared visual signature and was astonished to find that 8 of the last 10 pieces, certainly by no conscious attempt on my part, all had separate images placed within the frame of the larger work—for example, Luis Gonzales Palma’s Frame Included and Doug Keyes’ Eadweard Muybridge, part of Thinly Veiled, were a part of that early show. Like an outsider, for the first time, I saw my own unconscious selection criteria revealed on the walls.
Not long after that, a friend observed that many of the pieces in our collection had various iterations of screens, veils, or grids that called the viewer to look through them to the subject beyond. This seed of an organizing principle has been slowly germinating over the years to give flower to Thinly Veiled. A first pass through our collection led me to nearly 100 images that I thought might speak to this theme. The obvious physical “veils” were the first to reveal themselves. Closely on their heels more metaphorical selections became no less obvious–thinly veiled grief, racism, defiance, family trauma, censorship, environmental toxicity, and others are all laid bare here.
Bea Wallace’s Corpus offers the paper itself as veil for the marks made verso on this incredibly subtle monotype. John Cyr’s Neil Selkirk’s Developer Tray reveals a stunningly beautiful, visceral, and abstract latent history of the work of legendary photographer, Diane Arbus; Selkirk printed her work in that very tray. Without the spoiler title of Bill Anderson’s Bus Shelter, a straight photo made without Photoshop, multiple negatives, or any photo trickery, you would be hard pressed to identify this impossibly complicated and richly textured but banal scene. Lisa McCarty takes us on a tantalizing romp through Cassilhaus under the veil of the spectacular spectrum of failures endemic to Impossible Project instant film in Cassilhaus on the First Day of Autumn September 21, 2012. Brandon Thibodeaux, with a simplicity that belies his richly complicated subject, manages to transport us deep into the Mississippi Delta with a peak through the vines in Pecan Grove Bobo, MS, 2010. Niloufor Banisadr offers her Iranian censors a simple chair as stand-in for her potent self-portrait imagery. Alison Rossiter proffers an unwitting collaboration between the unpredictable chemical decay of long-expired photographic paper and modern-day darkroom chemistry in her experimental, camera-less explorations of the basic elements of photography.
The only piece in the exhibition not drawn from our collection is Swiss artist Walter Angehrn’s The Veil, a deliciously subtle acrylic on paper piece located next to his Untitled photograph. Walter is a dear friend and was our first artist-in-residence at Cassilhaus back in 2009. After learning of my intent to include his photograph in the exhibition and a rather comical attempt by me to explain the metaphoric concept of thinly veiled in broken German, he graciously offered this piece from his most recent exhibition. I am grateful to Walter and the other 53 artists featured in Thinly Veiled for filling our walls and lives with such beautiful, complex, and soul-nurturing work.
Thanks are due also to our intrepid Cassilhaus intern Phyllis Dooney for helping to mount and refine the exhibition. I am indebted, as always, to Jessina Leonard for the myriad things she does, including offering frequent curatorial assistance and the production of our gallery guides. She allows us to share Cassilhaus and our collection more fully with our community. Finally I thank Ellen Cassilly, my partner in everything, who makes all that I do richer and more fun; she has an incredibly wise eye. Enjoy this work both in front of and behind the veil. — Frank Konhaus, December 2017
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