Lost in Space

A New Exhibition at Sarasota Art Museum Takes Visitors on a Trip to the Stars

"The Truth of the Night Sky" is a collaboration between visual artist Anne Patterson and composer Patrick Harlin.

By Kay Kipling May 6, 2024 Published in the May-June 2024 issue of Sarasota Magazine

The Truth of the Night Sky imagery, by artist Anne Patterson

How often does serendipity play a role in a museum exhibition coming together? Probably more frequently than you might think. Chance certainly played a big role in the creation of the just-opened Sarasota Art Museum exhibit, The Truth of the Night Sky, a collaboration between visual artist Anne Patterson and composer Patrick Harlin that owes its existence to a random encounter 10 years ago, when the two were both in residence at Englewood’s Hermitage Artist Retreat.

Patterson (whose installation pieces some Ringling Museum visitors might recall from a show there in 2016) and Harlin were, according to Harlin, “instantly simpatico.” Patterson, he says, “is exceptionally fun to be around and collaborative. We bonded. We swam every day at the Hermitage, even when people thought we were crazy. We ended up overlapping our stays there two or three times, and the very first time we said we had to collaborate.”

“The first time we met,” Patterson says, “I showed him work I had done on my laptop, he played me a piece of his and I immediately responded to it. I do a lot of work connected with music. I have synesthesia—when I hear music, I see shape and color.” When the art museum approached Patterson about doing a solo exhibition, she decided to create a collaborative piece with Harlin instead.

Patterson had heard Harlin’s composition “Earthrise,” which was inspired in part by the iconic photograph of the same name taken by astronaut Bill Anders during the Apollo 8 lunar mission in 1968. When Harlin and Patterson decided to work on their new project, Harlin reworked elements of the original to correspond with Patterson’s art, which includes sculpture, paintings and the satin ribbons suspended from the ceiling that may be her trademark.

“We’re really trying to present a different museum experience,” says Patterson. “Immersive” is a key word. Patterson notes that she has a background in the theater and that Harlin writes music for performances. The combination of their approaches brings a touch of the concert hall or stage into the museum’s galleries.

“It’s a different way to think about music and art,” Harlin says. “We’re inviting people into an experience on a lot of different levels. If you’re comfortable in the concert hall but less familiar with a museum, you’ll feel comfortable. If you’re super confident in the museum world but less versed in the concert hall, you’re invited to that experience, too.”

The musical composition that is part of the work is “programmatic,” says Harlin. “It’s meant to be a human looking up at the stars in wonder. There’s a very clear blastoff philosophy, creating a sense of weightlessness through music and then a point where you turn back toward Earth. The piece itself is the journey.”

Sarasota Art Museum senior curator Rangsook Yoon says she was not aware of either Patterson’s or Harlin’s work before the current show began coming together. “For me, it’s an experimental journey,” she says. “I’m following them, rather than me directing them. Our third-floor space seems to be special for installation art, from a recent Carlos Bunga show with cardboard columns to the Judy Pfaff show [which closed in March]. Now it is totally changed again, with some very dark, grayish colors, dim light, music playing and video projections in synch. I think it will be very theatrical and spectacular, but it will also transform the visitors’ mental state by evoking transcendence, spirituality and hope.”

Hermitage artistic director and chief executive officer Andy Sandberg points out that The Truth of the Night Sky is not the only Sarasota Art Museum exhibition this season featuring Hermitage artists. Impact: Contemporary Artists at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, which features the work of 10 Hermitage alumni, is also on view there through Sunday, July 7. “These two world-class exhibitions offer Sarasota audiences a more complete look at the expansive talent of the diverse and accomplished Hermitage visual artists,” Sandberg says.

As for what Patterson and Harlin want viewers to feel, Harlin says he hopes visitors will experience “getting lost in the moment, where nothing else is tugging at you.”

“That’s such a profound feeling,” says Patterson. “You don’t get those experiences that often anymore.”

The Truth of the Night Sky is on display at Sarasota Art Museum through Sunday, Sept. 29. For more information, call (941) 309-4300 or visit sarasotaartmuseum.org. 

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