Robert Cozzolino, Mia’s curator of paintings, is really into ghosts. “I was born on Halloween,” he says. “I love the unexplained, ghost stories, things like that.”
In grad school he dabbled in the study of ghostly and spiritual images depicted in art. He didn’t realize it then, but he was laying the groundwork for his curation of Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art, which hits Mia’s Target Gallery in mid-February.
The exhibition, which features more than 200 works of art that include ghostly images, aural clouds, and spirit-channeling rituals, plus artifacts used in Spiritualist religions or for contacting spirits and ghosts, really is the culmination of Cozzolino’s life work so far. “It’s a topic in American art that’s been largely ignored,” Cozzolino says. “In some prominent artists’ biographies, it’s been swept under the rug or dismissed as not serious. I’m always interested in exploring topics that have been marginalized.”
After all, art often shows a layer of life we cannot see with the naked eye—a color that may not be present in a literal, lifelike image; a scene that may not be logically true. But what if it is true—at least to the artist? Because past the Ouija boards and aural photographs, beyond John Quidor’s The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane and Marvin Cone’s oil-on-canvas of an apparition in a doorway, what lies within most of these works of art is a gut-wrenching cloud of grief. Sometimes it’s on a personal level, as the artist works through their own pain and spiritual connections; sometimes it’s on a collective one, like in the images representing colonization and racial trauma and the hauntings of a country that has let so many down.
And when Cozzolino began planning this show some five years ago, he never could have dreamed the monumental, international scale of grief we’d be going through when Supernatural America finally opened. “People in times of great upheaval have turned to this kind of meaning in the world,” Cozzolino says. “After the First World War, after the Civil War, there was a great deal of interest in spiritualism. I think we’re seeing that now; there’s a lot of interest. Taking it to this level, seeing it as something more serious and something that might have meaning in a spiritual sense, is what we’re starting to see and what we hadn’t seen before.”
Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art will be on display at Mia February 19–May 15. For more information and a calendar of events related to the exhibit, visit artsmia.org.