Spencer Finch

color / temperature


Spencer Finch engages in a Goethe-like observation of nature and natural systems, tying the empirical world to that of art, literature, and philosophy, expressed particularly in the properties and perception of light. His work often results from unlikely combinations of his fascination with optics and physics, intertwined with influences from the history of art; Dada and the found object, Earth Art, conceptual art, post-minimalism, and even performance art inflect his creative output. Most evidently, he filters his fundamentally observational approach through a poetic, eccentric sensibility that owes much to American transcendentalism and the uncanny awareness evident in the work of writers like Emily Dickinson. Pragmatic, but also idealist and romantic, his work is in part a summation of 19th century sensibility brought into what is now being called the Anthropocene, a geological period reflecting the impact of human influence.

Accordingly, Finch’s poetics and “phenomenology” are rooted in the particular but implicate the universe. The centerpiece of the exhibition will be an ice machine adjusted to cycle water that has been color-calibrated to match that of the sky above the Franz Josef glacier (New Zealand) at a precise date and time. It then “calves” as ice into a basin, melts into a sky-blue pool, and is recycled. Finch’s work, often modest and quiet, posits us in a fraught relationship with the nature he observes and records the workings of. Finch’s creative process transforms and reinterprets those observations and experiences; the resulting works are compelling, sometimes drolly humorous, or beautiful, but they also remind us that we are small and irrelevant individually, while the cumulative effect of our actions is portentous. His work helps us understand our position vis a vis “nature” (and its phenomena), even as we alter it.

Another work, Wind (through Emily Dickinson’s window, August 14, 2012, 3:22 pm), neatly condenses the Finch’s observations and investigations of the air moving through a window of the famously hermetic poet’s house. The intervals and velocities Finch recorded of the breeze are transcribed for a box window fan and a computerized attenuator/timer. The work returns our attention to the quotidian basis for much poetry; in this instance, the finely-tuned poet’s sensitivity is idiosyncratically evoked by a common, practical object. Any Romantic notions that might attend the idea of inspiration borne by a gentle breeze from outside Dickinson’s self-contained environment are complicated by this nearly Dada-esque gesture. Finch’s work, along with emphasizing the meditative, also forefronts mediation and the role of the artist as mediator, here represented in absentia by the fan and it’s electronic ganglia. Nature is of course mediated and distorted by our collective presence, actions, and technologies, and the artist or poet also sometimes intercedes, presenting an interpretation through yet another medium in an act of transformation.

About the Artist

Spencer Finch graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in comparative literature from Hamilton College, then pursued an M.F.A. in sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating in 1989. He was in the 2004 Whitney Biennial; the first retrospective of his work, in 2007- 2008, took place at MASS MoCA. He currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Finch was the only artist commissioned to create work for the just-opened 9/11 Memorial Museum, and he recently completed an installation at the Morgan Library in New York.


Paul Bright, curator. Exhibition organized in cooperation with James Cohan Gallery and Spencer Finch Studio, NYC.

More Information