Rarely does a show excite me as did "The Unseen Eye - Photography from the W.M. Hunt Collection" currently on exhibit at the Appleton Museum of Art here in Ocala. Why? The collector, W.M. Hunt has written a transcript accompanying the exhibit that illustrates his passion for collecting in an intensely personal and accessible narrative. I'm not easily impressed but this is a must see show.
My fellow artists would do well to recognize the importance of describing and speaking about their own artwork as well as Mr. Hunt depicts his emotional connection to his collection.
No gallery labels, only numbers which are listed on a photocopied checklist describe the photographs. Purposely ignoring these, I wanted to experience the images without bias to Mapplethorpe, Arbus, Weston and other well-named photographers. Interspersed throughout the images is signage containing the honest, forthright and engaging feelings of Hunt written in the first person. This open invitation into the psyche of an obsessive collector makes the show absolutely extraordinary. We get to be voyeurs.
Here are a few of his quotes:
"I was a very unhappy child, full of melancholy and depression, full of dread and sadness. I was capable of great good humor and generosity, socially skilled, but I was fraught with anxiety and feelings of loss. I can’t get over how collecting offered me insight into so much of this. One of the successes of the collection is its consistency in terms how the images relate to me. When you look at this collection you don’t, in fact, need to know anything about me, but there is a through line that is amazingly consistent. It is my unconscious."
"I have always felt that I have been an enigma in need of sorting out. Collecting did that."
"Collecting photographs is a completely visceral experience, an epiphany. You know you have found a great one when the hair on the back of your hands stands on end, your heart pounds, and you can’t move your feet."
"Collectors are obsessed, ravenous for this one and then the next one. People who do not collect, won’t. They don’t connect with this intense, obsessive force. Too bad. It is huge fun."
"Great art is insistent. It demands a visceral response: unease, awe, relief, and it calls for contemplation. It resonates like a primal chord. The earliest mark making strikes me as a spiritual response to living, a primitive attempt to find or create meaning."
"Insist on engagement. Wrestle with what’s difficult. Pretty is boring. Seek intensity."
"Escape, intensity, pleasure, I like those things so I have to remind myself that my reaction or reading of a photographic image is mine alone. But as I have said, it is only my truth."
These quotes are only a few excerpts barely scratching the surface of Hunt's fearless openness. These are the people we create art for. At least we'd wish for them if we had a choice. The passionate who wear their hearts on their sleeve. I'm buying that painting because I love it and it speaks to me.
“Look, look, look. You have to look. It's the way to educate your eyes. Stare. Pry, listen eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long”. - Walker Evans