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Test Pattern is a lobby gallery exhibition of recent Whitney permanent collection acquisitions. The exhibition focuses on works in which fields of abstract visual information are not produced by the artist’s hand, but are appropriated from other pre-existing sources. One of my favorite works is Rachel Harrison’s Untitled (Perth Amboy) (2001), a photograph of what, at first glance, appears to be a simple residential window. It’s part of a series captured by the artist over two weeks in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in the wake of a report that an image resembling the Virgin Mary had appeared on that very window. The abstract mass of smudges came from the hands of thousands of pilgrims who felt compelled to make physical contact with, what was for them, a holy surface.
The elegant simplicity of Harrison’s frame and the dreamlike quality of the accumulated handprints can perhaps be understood, not as representations of a religious miracle, but rather of the fervent desire people have for miracles, a phenomenon which is itself imbued with mystery.
By Gene McHugh, Interpretation Fellow