The night—velvety, fraught, imperceptible, inevitable—has been explored by artists across all times and places. This exhibition charts this vast territory of the night through more than 50 works by artists including Ansel Adams, Leonard Freed, Ed Ruscha, June Wayne, Carrie Mae Weems, and James McNeill Whistler.
Night Contains Multitudes takes a conversational and multivalent approach to artists’ engagement with the night. For artists, night can be a natural phenomenon as well as a metaphor. It can be an aesthetic challenge that pushes an artist’s ability to represent darkness and invisibility or a historical marker under threat after the invention of electricity. It is a time of inspiration and creativity as well as fear and troubled reflection. Night can be quiet and contemplative; it can be the pulse of a restless city after dark.
All these interpretations—and more—are represented in this broad exhibition. Nineteenth-century prints such as Adolphe Appian’s Un Soir, Bords du Rhône à Rix and Charles-François Daubigny’s Claire de Lune à Valmondois depict people outside in a nightscape as emblematic of the Romantic attraction to dusk and moonlight. Landscape photographs like Ansel Adams’s Moonrise from Glacier Point document nightfall as a natural phenomenon tinged with the supernatural. The invention and widespread use of electricity changed the character of the night as darkness gave way to artificial lighting, neon signage, and the concept of night life: photographs from Paul J. Woolf, Robert von Sternberg, and Leonard Freed depict evening attire, drag performers, smoke-filled jazz clubs, and festivals. Works by Carrie Mae Weems and Charles Gaines, among others, remind us that different people have different relationships to the night; people of all genders, racial backgrounds, and class status navigate the darker hours differently, some with fear and uncertainty, some with energy and abandon. And abstract images—Matsumi Kanemitsu’s Night Flier, Isa Carrillo’s Rising Constellation, and June Wayne’s Night Wind—demonstrate how the night becomes an ambiguous and multivalent symbol, shaped by an altered visual perception.
The exhibition breaks down the geographic boundaries and art historical periods to set a variety of works—prints, paintings, and photographs, primarily from the Benton’s collection—into a wide-ranging conversation about artists’ engagement with the world underneath the night sky. Arranged in the gallery from the hours after sunset through the softest minutes just before dawn, these works are emblems and interpretations of our rich and multifaceted relationship to those hours low in light but rich in creativity.