In the twelve years that I have worked as an art advisor, I have never been moved to tears by looking at art. Not once. Until two weeks ago, which, frankly, was a shock to the system. Strolling, quite casually, into Charlotte Dumas’ show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, I did not have any expectations other than to enjoy an exhibition of a photographer I was vaguely familiar with.
Shot between 2011 and 2012, the exhibition consists of circa ten portraits of the burial horses of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The rigorously trained, military horses draw the caissons that carry fallen soldiers and veterans to their final resting place; eight times a day, five days a week. Photographed in their stables, often at night, the photographer’s lens masterfully captures their strength whilst revealing a powerful sense of vulnerability. These intimate portraits, in their stillness, convey the gravity and grief the horses absorb in the course of their daily duties – which, to me, makes the show so profoundly moving.
Dumas makes formal animal portraits through which she questions the relationship between animals and mankind. Animals have been our allies for thousands of years and Dumas often depicts them in relation to their utility in society, as is the case in this exhibition. At a time when most animals no longer have a functional role within our communities they still deserve our respect: by mirroring our behaviour they teach us about ourselves. In a way, therefore, animals represent mankind’s better half. This exhibition does a superb job of reminding us of that.
With thanks to Paul Roth, senior curator and director, photography and media arts, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
The exhibition “Charlotte Dumas: Anima” can be seen until 28 October 2012 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 Seventeenth Street, NW, Washington DC.