Director’s Choice: Spectral Evidence by Nancy Bowen


On view October 1-November 14, 2021

Inspired by a true story of Colonial American judgement and repentance, Nancy Bowen creates a visual interpretation of guilt and remorse in Spectral Evidence. Bowen’s ancestor Samuel Sewall was a judge in the Salem witch trials who later publicly recanted and confessed his sins in church. The installation visually interprets his penitence and gives space for the people killed as witches as a result of the trials. Twenty gravestones face off their accuser while he bears the burden of their deaths.

Riffing off Early American gravestone imagery Bowen deconstructs the “death head” image to create winged creatures with feet stuck in the amorphously shaped stones. The dead could rise again- at least in spirit.

While these sculptures were originally conceived as gravestones honoring the wrongfully killed, they took on layers of meaning during their making. They became markers of Covid death, of gun violence death, and of other senseless killings. They took on a feeling of collective mourning for all that has been lost during these difficult times.

The figure sculpture inspired by Samuel Sewall himself depicts a rambunctious version of a hair shirt standing atop a scaffolding covered with gallows. More tiny gallows hang from shanks of hair in the shirt and cascade onto the scaffolding. The figure offers a bowl to the heavens in hopes of better times. This representation of guilt and shame is a vibrant and slightly humorous apparition, a visual cautionary tale.

Along with the sculptural installation Bowen is showing a suite of collages that accompany the 46 stanzas of Elizabeth Willis’ poem, The Witch. Willis, herself a descendant of one of the alleged witches, has written a luminous poem that combines folklore and observation into a celebration of women.

Thank you to Breon Dunigan and Liam Bailey for their help installing this exhibition.


Nancy Bowen is a mixed media artist known for her eclectic mixtures of imagery and materials in both two and three dimensions. Her sculpture and drawing exists in an in -between zone of form and idea, of abstraction and representation. Her work offers a poetic commentary on our quickly changing material culture. Like an artistic archeologist in this age of globalization and post-industrialization, she salvages (often disappearing) ornament and craft traditions and incorporates them into sculpture and drawings.

Bowen has had over a dozen solo exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe including the Lesley Heller Gallery in NYC, Annina Nosei Gallery in NYC, Galerie Farideh Cadot in Paris, the Betsy Rosenfield gallery in Chicago, and the James Gallery in Houston. She has been included in group shows in various museums around the country. Her work has been reviewed widely in such journals as Art in America, Artforum, Glass Magazine, Sculpture Magazine and a host of newspapers.

Bowen has also completed two major public art works. She designed an outdoor sculpture environment with a fountain and large seating area at DePauw University in Greencastle, IN. She also designed several integrated architectural art works at the Worthington Hooker School in New Haven, CT.

She recently won an Anonymous was a Woman Award (2017). She has won awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, The Jentel Foundation, the Brown Foundation Fellowship at Dora Maar House, and the European Ceramic Work Center among others. She received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from Hunter College (CUNY). She has taught at Bard College, Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University. She is currently the Carl and Doris Kempner Distinguished Professor of Sculpture at Purchase College, S.U.N.Y. She maintains a studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.