Now in its third installment, the Mead Art Museum’s Rotherwas Project exhibition series features works by contemporary artists in the museum’s historic wood-paneled room. The latest show, titled Rotherwas Project 3, Saya Woolfalk: Life Products and the ChimaCloud, includes videos, sculptures and prints by New York-based artist Saya Woolfalk and is the first to draw inspiration directly from the space itself.
The dramatic architectural elements of the Rotherwas Room—originally built in 1611 for a Court in Herefordshire, England, then gifted to Amherst in 1944 by Herbert Lee Pratt, Class of 1895—provide unique contrast to the contemporary works on view. “It’s hard to ignore the sensory experience evoked by the Rotherwas Room, with its moody light and stunning paneling,” says David E. Little, Mead director and chief curator. “In contrast, most contemporary exhibitions are presented in white cubes or spaces designed explicitly to show art.”
The first two installments of the Rotherwas Project in fall 2016 and spring 2017 respectively featured mixed-media paintings by New York-based artist Amanda Valdez and colorful drawings set in glowing light boxes by Japanese-German artist Kota Ezawa.
Woolfalk visited the museum last summer and took notice of the room’s intricate oak mantelpiece—which depicts four female figures as the four cardinal virtues: Justice, Temperance, Prudence and Fortitude—and decided to try something different. For the Mead exhibition, Woolfalk imagined the interaction between these four historic figures and the “Empathics,” a fictional group of hybrid women-plants she imagined and has been creating in various mediums since 2008.