As we navigate what could be considered a second gilded age its appropriate to reflect on the first. At the turn of the twentieth century Andrew Carnegie may have been the richest man in the world. In his “Gospel of Wealth” he proclaimed it the duty of the rich to give away their fortunes through projects supporting the “common good.” Carnegie lit upon the scheme of building libraries as a means to this end. In all, over a thousand libraries were built in the U.S. between 1893 and 1919. Today, many of those buildings have ceased to function as libraries and now serve as local museums and community arts centers. In this way, a portion of Carnegie’s private wealth has been converted to public capital.
The Carnegie Libraries are not the only architectural legacy of the Gilded Age. Many mansions and grand estates were built at that time as America’s wealthy desired homes emulating the extravagant styles of European aristocracy. The photographer, Frances Benjamin Johnston, recorded the architecture and landscapes of many of these homes in the 1910’s. Thousands of her negatives are now the property of the Library of Congress and are held in the public domain.
In “Dark Pools for a Gilded Age” I have appropriated a selection of Johnston’s images (public images of private residences). Idyllic garden scenes featuring pools and fountains captured on hand-tinted, glass lantern slides are used as the substrate for paintings. High resolution scans of Johnston's original slides are available for download via the Library of Congress. After downloading, these images were not edited beyond a very simple crop to create right angled corners and remove inconsistent borders. It was my intention to preserve as much of the original image and composition as possible. The original library scans are not very clean. Evidence of dust, debris, and defects were purposefully allowed to remain. This preserves visual evidence of the archival nature of these images in an effort to convey the feeling of deep, dusty library shelves. The images were then printed via full color inkjet onto archival quality photo paper, and the water features painted black with acrylic paint. But, before each piece is considered to be “finished” it must be displayed in a Carnegie Libraries building. In this way the historical connection between our current gilded age and the past is made physically manifest by the choice of exhibition site. It is important to understand that it is not necessary that these works be "officially" exhibited by these institutions - just on public display somewhere in the building either singly or in small groups of 2 or 3. Hallways, lobbies, even restrooms are perfectly acceptable locations. Very specific wall text including library catalogue information of each image must accompany any display of these works. After display in a Carnegie Library building, the works are considered finished and can be exhibited in any traditional gallery or museum setting.
I began researching "Dark Pools for a Gilded Age" in June, 2015, after noticing the large number of visual arts centers and galleries with the word "Carnegie" in the title. At this time I have identified 51 art centers/museums across 23 states that are housed in former Carnegie library buildings in the United States. Three have agreed to either display or host an exhibition of the work in this project, but I have yet to contact the majority. Hopefully, I will be able to get "Dark Pools" into each of the 23 states. At the very least, a Dark Pool will find its way into every region of the U.S. The institutions that agree to display a work become my collaborators. Without their willingness to participate, "Dark Pools for a Gilded Age" cannot be realized. In this way the works in this project effect an expansion of the traditional roles among institutions, artists, and artworks. How the works are displayed is as important as where. This project has been heavily researched and the possession of certain historical information is key to understanding the images. In other words, the picture does not speak for itself. Traditionally it is the curator's role to determine not only what information is shared with the viewer, but how that information is conveyed either through wall text, image lists, guided tours, etc. In this project I usurp this aspect of the curator's role by controlling the dissemination of information. Specific graphs and texts that must accompany the two dimensional objects on the wall include Figure I.1. from Thomas Picketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, reference to the building in which the work is sited, catalog information about the Johnston image, and a brief explanation of the project.