Critics’ Picks

Spencer Finch, Candlelight (CIE 529/418), 2022, stained glass, steel frame, dimensions variable.

Spencer Finch, Candlelight (CIE 529/418), 2022, stained glass, steel frame, dimensions variable.

New York

Spencer Finch

Hill Art Foundation
239 Tenth Avenue, Third Floor
September 16, 2022–March 4, 2023

Spencer Finch’s efforts to rediscover and resurrect moments of ephemerality, often through re-creating specific instances of light and color—such fleeting treasures—speak to our instinct to wrest control and ownership of beauty. Finch doesn’t look to this gap between our desires and reality with sorrow, but instead explores this push and pull with humor and affection. His work tells a story about human life with all its foibles and grace, reminding us how lucky we are to experience it.

The artist’s show here, “Lux and Lumen,” takes its title from the writings of twelfth-century historian Abbot Suger, an early champion of Gothic architecture and the steward of a cathedral in Saint-Denis, France, which serves as the subject of Finch’s Rose Window at Saint-Denis (morning effect), 2022, a radial composition of LEDs adhered to a wall that re-creates the morning light of the holy space. Suger wrote of the ability that stained glass has to transform everyday light, or lux, into the more sacred form of luminescence, lumen. By toying with this distinction between the divine and the ordinary, a subtle but revelatory question emerges: What light isn’t holy?

The show was conceived around the foundation’s recent acquisition and restoration of The Creation and the Expulsion from Paradise, 1533, a stained-glass work by French Renaissance artist Valentin Bousch. It depicts Adam and Eve on their dejected walk from Eden—the expulsion from paradise yet another metaphor for our need to find the permanent and perfect in a world that is neither. Finch selected ten of his own pieces, made between 2001 and 2022, to exhibit alongside it. Among them are The Outer—from the Inner (Emily Dickinson’s Bedroom Window at Dusk), 2018, a suite of seven small photographs of the window beside the eponymous poet’s writing desk at her home in Amherst, Massachusetts. These images capture the progression of night; as evening grows, the windows become darker and more reflective, and the surfaces that once contained exterior views instead begin to mirror the room’s interior. And Candlelight (CIE 529/418), 2022, a stained-glass installation, makes the natural light from an upstairs corner of the exhibition space mimic the warmth of a candle’s flame—another flickering of human yearning, another flash of the divine.