Throughout history and across the planet, people have invariably created objects promoting faith, healing and transformation. Sympathetic Magic presents objects from Vanderbilt University Collections alongside works by modern and contemporary artists, in acknowledgement of the steadfast and uniquely human belief in the transformative power of art.
Historical artifacts on view—ranging from votives and tomb objects to divination systems from China, Africa and the American South—diverge widely in origin and intent, but embody a shared investment in physical objects as agents of metaphysical change. Works by celebrated artists of the twentieth century, such as Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol, reflect the enduring influence of faith traditions even in avant-garde art-making. The contemporary artists in this exhibition—including Department of Art faculty María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Raheleh Filsoofi and Jana Harper, as well as alumnus Aiden Layer—draw insight from distinct mediums and diverse cultural backgrounds, contributing artworks that bridge the inner life of an individual with the material world we all share. Meanwhile, artworks by Jeffrey Gibson, Lubaina Himid and Kara Walker exemplify art as a vehicle for collective transformation, by encouraging a reckoning with history—that of this century as well as those past—to effect positive change in the future.
This exhibition was made possible, in part, by a generous gift from Bertram L. Levy. Objects in the gallery have been gathered from across Vanderbilt University’s collections including the Fine Arts Gallery Collection, History of Medicine Collections and Special Collections and University Archives at the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries.