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Capturing the Ephemeral

Exhibition celebrates Daniel Ranalli’s Cape Cod images

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In the slideshow above, Dan Ranalli talks about his work in Traces.

Daniel Ranalli’s work is like performance art, but without an audience. The Metropolitan College associate professor has lived in Wellfleet for more than two decades, and the inspiration for much of his work comes from nature—seaweed, snails, and sand dunes—which he frequently arranges into patterns and forms.

Ranalli constructs much of his work near the Cape Cod National Seashore. Few get to see his work while he’s creating it, but his camera captures the images. “My intent,” he has said, “is to create a kind of personal natural history and is as much about the meditative process of walking and looking closely as it is about making.”

Much of his work is reclaimed by the sea or altered by weather, and it is that transience, that shape-shifting that marks his work.

The result is ethereal.

Traces, currently running at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum through January 16, 2011, features more than two dozen of the artist’s works, assembled over two decades. The exhibition is curated by Leslie K. Brown (GRS’14), a former curator of the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University.

“I’ve been a photographer since the ’70s, I guess, working mostly with photograms,” says Ranalli. Photograms are one-of-a-kind photographic images made without a camera by capturing light or objects on photographic paper. “They got a lot of attention in the ’70s and ’80s, and people said, ‘Well, he’s not really a photographer.’”

But Ranalli’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, as well as the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington.

Ranalli, founder and director of MET’s graduate arts administration program, walks the beaches and tidal pools near his home. He often arranges stones, places live snails into spirals, sculpts seaweed into forms, or rakes the sand in formations, much like the Buddhist meditative works in Japanese gardens.

And he often mixes his photographs with words or phrases, some of which describe the moment he’s captured: “At the moment of the highest tide of the year I placed a found board with two feathers in the sand at the high water mark,” he wrote on one photo, Highest Tide of the Year, 1989.

“I think of myself as an artist who plays with a lot of different materials and media, but photography is the process I guess I’m most facile with recording what I do,” he says. “It usually ends up expressed as some version of photography.”

Traces, Cape Work 1987–2007 is on display through January 16, 2011, at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, 460 Commercial St., Provincetown. The museum is open from noon to 5 p.m., Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and also by appointment. Admission is $7 for the general public, free for PAAM members and children 12 and under. For more information, call 508-487-1750.

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @kcornuel.

1 Comments

One Comment on Capturing the Ephemeral

  • Anonymous on 11.17.2010 at 11:24 am

    Andy Goldwsworthy ?

    Given the high corelation of his work to that of Andy Goldwsworthy, does Daniel Ranalli have any comments about the relationship between their artistic expressions? Have they met and talked?

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