Mac Adams art exhibition gives new meaning to shadows

Patty Clark

“Illuminating Perception: Explorations of Light and Shadow” by Mac Adams is an exhibition that gives new meaning to shadows.  

University Museums is displaying art work by Mac Adams that uses light and materials to create different silhouettes. Adams’ process of creating his work is backwards.

“The shadow comes first and you are working backwards. Doing something logical, illogically,” Adams said. “[My inspiration] comes from all different places. … It’s finding the most optimum silhouette.”

Adams was born in Brynmawr, South Wales, Great Britain, and became a U.S. citizen in 1991. He began his studies at Cardiff College of Art and then continued at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, where he received a masters of fine arts and worked as a teaching assistant.

Adams has taught at many universities including Montclair University, Sara Lawrence College Bronxville and is currently a professor at State University New York in the visual arts department. Adams has also received several awards and has even been awarded with the National Endowment Fellowship Award three times; 1976, 1980 and 1982 (sculpture). 

Adams said the illusion of shadows began in the 1980s and, “it’s a deeper kind of subjectivity.” He described his work as pure concentration.

“It’s a process of meditation, you move a piece a one-fourth of an inch, look at it then move it another one-fourth of an inch,” Adams said. 

One of Adams’ sculptures on campus is seen all day, it is a sculpture made out of three pieces of marble called The Moth. It is a piece Adams did that represents the moth that flew into a computer and was the reason for a malfunction. The computer was being used by Grace Hopper, one of the first computer programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer. Thus coining the term “debugging.” The sculpture, installed in 2008, is at the west entrance of Coover Hall. The sculpture is part of the art on campus collection which includes hundreds of pieces around the Iowa State Campus. 

Adams said students should visit his exhibition because they will be very surprised.

“It goes beyond words and they should come and experience it for themselves,” Adams said. “It’s about broadening one’s vision. … There are lots of secrets in the world.”  

Nancy Girard, educator of visual literacy and learning, said that she enjoys contemporary art and that she loves the meanings of Adam’s art.

“First you can look at the sculpture purely as abstract sculpture, then you notice the cast shadows, then you think about the relationship between the shadow and the objects that cast it,” Girard said. 

Girard said that light plays a big role in Adams’ exhibition.

“The role of light in the exhibition is so important that it gives the artwork an interesting theatrical quality,” Girard said.

Girard described Adams’ shadow sculptures as being, “dramatic.”

Nancy recommended that students visit the exhibition.

“ISU students would find that art of Mac Adams very intriguing. It is an exhibition you need to see for yourself,” Girard said.

“The art in the exhibition is on loan courtesy of the artist and the Elizabeth Dee Gallery NYC, and is curated and organized by University Museums with support from the College of Engineering, Jim and Kathy Melsa, Al and Ann Jennings, Dirk and Cindy Scholten, the College of Design, Country Landscapes, Inc., and the University Museums Membership,” according to University Museums. 

Exhibition Location: Christian Petersen Museum in Morrill Hall

Hours of operation: Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.