A collection of profound and emotive art pieces from several international artists makes up The Ringling’s new exhibit Phantom Bodies: The Human Aura in Art. Phantom Bodies showcases four distinct sections – “Objects and Absences,” “Violence, Empathy, and Erasure,” “Sublimation,” and “The Mind-Body Problem,” which all seek to explore relationships of the mind, body and spirit in poignant experiences of memory and loss. The powerful collection of 38 paintings, photographs, videos, sculptures and installations will be available to view at The Ringling until Sept. 11, 2016. Matthew McLendon, curator of modern and contemporary art, who is overseeing this installation, told us a bit about why he thinks this exhibit is a must-see.

“I think the importance of contemporary art is that it helps to frame our experience of the time in which we live," McLendon explains. "The reason I love working with artists is that they truly ‘see’ things that most of us miss. The work in Phantom Bodies deals with some of the weightiest aspects of the human condition—loss, violence, trauma. Hopefully, it can help our visitors process these issues which are, unfortunately, a continuing presence in our lives.”

Although the pieces within this exhibition are dark and unnerving, McLendon points out that themes of hope are also evident in many of the selections as well.

 “Two of my favorite works in the exhibition are all about hope," he says. "Anish Kapoor’s Mother as Mountain celebrates the creative energy of the universe through the lens of Eastern thought and religion. For Kapoor, that creative potential is feminine, so this exquisite sculpture references the female anatomy and the monumental qualities of nature. In the same gallery is Damien Hirst’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a monumental mandala composed entirely out of butterfly wings. This work is elegantly beautiful while reminding us of the fragility of that beauty. Ultimately, however, I think about the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly—what could be more hopeful as a metaphor than that?”

McLendon hopes that the pieces in Phantom Bodies will provoke visitors to look within and evaluate themselves and their own purposes in relation to darker moments that exist in the world.

“I hope they [visitors] take away a sense of self-analysis and a renewed sense of purpose. Among the most powerful works in the exhibition, for me, are a group of photos by Ken Gonzales-Day. He has taken archival photographs of lynchings and photoshopped out the victim so that we focus on the perpetrators of these heinous acts. These works have had a profound impact on me, and have made me look inward and ask myself the very uncomfortable questions, ‘When have I not spoken up? When have I been a bystander to injustice?’ We should all be asking ourselves such questions, especially today as injustice and hate crimes are on the rise again throughout the world. If the exhibition does this for some of our visitors, then it will be a success.”

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