David Lynch: The Unified Field

I Burn Pinecone, 2009, Mixed media on cardboard, 72 x 108 in. Galerie Karl Pfefferle, Munich, Germany

September 13, 2014 - January 11, 2015

Historic Landmark Building, Galleries 8, 9, 10, and Morris Gallery 

In 1967 as an advanced painting student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia (PAFA), David Lynch made a hybrid work of art that brought together painting, sculpture, sound, film, and installation. Six Men Getting Sick (1967) expanded Lynch’s practice and opened him up to the possibilities of filmmaking. He went on to become internationally renowned as the director of the films such as Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), Blue Velvet (1986), Wild at Heart (1990), Mulholland Drive (2001), and Inland Empire (2006) as well as the groundbreaking television series Twin Peaks (1990). In recent years he has initiated internet-based projects and recorded original music. Throughout his multifaceted career Lynch never stopped working as a visual artist and has maintained a devoted studio practice, developing a parallel body of painting, prints, photography, and drawing that deserves to be better known. In many ways his identity as an American artist brings together all aspects of his creative life into a unified field of subjects and concerns.

David Lynch: The Unified Field will be Lynch’s first major museum exhibition in the United States, organized in close collaboration with the artist. The exhibition will bring together approximately 90 paintings and drawings from 1965 to the present. Among the qualities of Lynch’s work that will be explored in the exhibition is his ability to suggest infinite potential in a paused narrative. Many works included present a tense, mysterious, scenario suspended in the course of a story. We witness psychologically-charged moments isolated out of context that make it difficult to present what will happen next. Will Lynch’s figures endure horrific violence, welcome a warm embrace, reveal a hidden secret, fall victim to an absurd accident?

In many cases Lynch combines the human body with “organic phenomena” out of scale, in unlikely combinations, and embedded in the materiality of paint. Dark humor, often introduced through the inclusion of text, permeates much of the work. Lynch’s ability to suggest the emotional intensity of his subject matter through paint textures, surface effects, and physical traces of his hand, brings intimacy and empathy to even the most disturbing narratives. Home is a recurring motif in the selected work. Images of domesticity or pictographic depictions of “house” become ripe sites of childhood memories, flashbacks, nightmares, or passion. Other works reveal the body’s outward appearance affected by its psychological state or explore the alternately odd, tender, and menacing aspects of relationships.

PAFA’s installation will feature work from all periods of Lynch’s career, including a section exploring his early work and its origins in Philadelphia (1965-70), which was a critical time in his creative development. A room will be devoted to Six Men Getting Sick and related drawings.

This and other early works work have rarely been seen in public and will offer a substantial response to dealer Leo Castelli when he enthusiastically viewed Lynch’s work in 1987, “I would like to know how he got to this point; he cannot be born out of the head of Zeus.” Lynch’s work of the late 1960s reveals a confident and daring imagination establishing themes and viewpoints he would develop across media in the course of his creative life. PAFA’s installation will include a discreet selection of early films made while Lynch was still in Philadelphia. Among these will be The Alphabet (1968), The Grandmother (1970), plus early 16mm experiments and a short film made at the opening of James Havard’s Crayola exhibition at the Dianne Vanderlip Gallery in Philadelphia (1967).

David Lynch: The Unified Field will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue with texts by PAFA curator Robert Cozzolino and Professor of Art History and Film and Media Studies at the University of South Carolina, Susan Felleman. Dr. Cozzolino’s essay will explore Lynch’s development, art influences such as Francis Bacon, Edward Hopper, and Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit as well as Lynch’s impact on contemporary artists such as Gregory Crewdson, Cindy Sherman, and Paul McCarthy. Special attention will be given to Lynch’s formative years in Philadelphia and his relationship to contemporaries in L.A. Felleman’s essay will deal with Lynch’s vision as a painter making films, including a close reading of art historical sources in his film work. A comprehensive chronology will also appear in the volume, making it invaluable for future work on Lynch’s visual art.

The project will feature a diverse range of public programs, including collaborations with the Philadelphia-area film community. Partners will include the Philadelphia Film Festival, International House Philadelphia, the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, and the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art in Lynch’s former neighborhood now dubbed “the Eraserhood.” A full schedule of events will be announced soon.

David Lynch is represented by Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery in Los Angeles.

Robert Cozzolino, Senior Curator and Curator of Modern Art

The William Penn Foundation is the presenting sponsor of this exhibition.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ public programs are funded in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency).




General operating support provided, in part, by