Catherine Wagner: Paradox Observed

Release date 
Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Catherine Wagner, "Pomegranate Wall," 2000; Ten light boxes with printed duratrans, florescent lights, metal frame; 96 x 480 inches; Collection of the San José Museum of Art. Acquired from the artist upon the completion of the San José Museum of Art Artist Residency Fellowship, awarded to the artist in 1997; 2001.40.

Press Preview: Friday, April 5 | 11am–12pm

Catherine Wagner: Paradox Observed, on view April 5 through August 18, 2019, is a visual investigation of science to critically examine the systems through which we attempt to decipher the codes and structures of human existence. Wagner borrows tools and methods of scientific research, using imaging devices like the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine and scanning electron microscope (SEM) as a camera to capture biological matter—the cross section of an onion and the textured surface of a shark’s tooth—with analytical clarity and larger-than-life scale. In the hands of an artist, scientific tools and the data they record evade their perceived objectivity, suggesting a paradoxical conception of the scientific endeavor and its desire and struggle to empirically understand the nature of our being.

“Catherine Wagner encourages the visitor to reexamine the everyday. Pomegranate Wall lends itself to considering her creative process of studying, composing, and creating. At San José Museum of Art, we are committed to fostering awareness of artists’ contributions to society. As we present this exhibition, we invite the public to reflect on Wagner’s examinations of the every day,” S. Sayre Batton, Oshman Executive Director, San José Museum of Art.

Wagner’s immersive installation Pomegranate Wall is the center of the exhibition, a glowing 8-by-40-foot arc of photographs taken with an MRI machine. Made following a two-year Artist Residency Fellowship SJMA awarded Wagner in 1997, Pomegranate Wall is the culmination of her exploration into scientific institutions where her photographic documentation and use of technologies like the MRI machine act as a counterpart to scientific research. Imaged in reverse of a camera—from the inside out, rather than the outside in—cross-section scans of pomegranates resemble human cells under a microscope. Monumentally scaled and clinically backlit in Pomegranate Wall, Wagner’s images possess the authoritative weight of scientific inquiry. But their abstraction presents a paradox: these seemingly pure images are constructed. Though composed of real data, their order and classification—the modes of analyzing visual information—are fundamentally impacted by the observer.

About Catherine Wagner

Catherine Wagner was born in 1953 in San Francisco. She received her BA in 1975 and MA in 1981, both from San Francisco State University. She is the recipient of major awards, including the Rome Prize (2013–14), a Guggenheim Fellowship, NEA Fellowships, and the Ferguson Award. Her work is included in major museum collections including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Fine Art, Houston; and the San José Museum of Art.

SJMA Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Embarking on its 50th anniversary in the fall of 2019, the San José Museum of Art launches a season of solo exhibitions of visionary women artists to honor the Museum’s history of gender parity in exhibitions, programs, acquisitions, and leadership. Undersoul: Jay DeFeo is first of the exhibitions to open, which is currently on view; Rina Banerjee: Make Me a Summary of the World opens May 16 through October 6, 2019; and Beta Space: Pae White will open July 18, 2019 and through January 19, 2020.


Creative Minds: Catherine Wagner and Glen Helfand

Friday, April 5, 2019 | 5:30–6:30pm

SF-based curator and critic Glen Helfand chats with artist Catherine Wagner about her works and multi-disciplinary practice and process during Facebook First Friday. Admission is free, advanced registration is recommended.

Lunchtime Lecture: The Art and Science of Catherine Wagner

Wednesday, May 1, 2019 | 12–1pm

Join us for a cross-disciplinary discussion at the intersection between art and science.

Lunchtime Lectures take place on the first Wednesday of the month at noon in the Charlotte Wendel Education Center. Visitors are welcome to bring food and beverages. Free with Museum admission.

Gallery Talk: Catherine Wagner: Paradox Observed

Thursday, May 23 | 12:30-1pm

Tour the exhibition Paradox Observed with Kathryn Wade, curatorial associate.


Sponsored by Casey and Jack Carsten and Tad Freese and Brook Hartzell. In-kind support provided by Anglim Gilbert Gallery and Gallery Luisotti.



The San José Museum of Art reflects the diverse cultures and innovative spirit of Silicon Valley. Through its exhibitions, programs, scholarship, and collections, SJMA connects the present and the past, the art of the West Coast and the world. The Museum fosters awareness of artists’ broad contributions to society and engages audiences with the art of our time and the vitality of the creative process.

The San José Museum of Art is located at 110 South Market Street in downtown San José, California. The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11am to 5pm and until 8pm or later on the third Thursday of each month. As of Friday, February 1, 2019, SJMA is also free to all on the first Friday of each month from 5–9pm.

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Programs at the San José Museum of Art are made possible by generous operating support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Yvonne and Mike Nevens, a Cultural Affairs grant from the City of San José, and the Richard A. Karp Charitable Foundation.