Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals
Photographs by Christopher Payne
January 19 – February 26, 2011
Artist’s Reception: January 26, 4:30 - 6 p.m.
Artist’s talk: February 16, 7 p.m. Recital Hall
New York architect and photographer Christopher Payne has, over a period of nearly six years, richly documented the once grand and imposing public architecture of state mental hospitals throughout the United States, visiting a total of 70 institutions in 30 states.
These institutions with their lavish landscapes and scenic vistas were the nation’s hallmark of mental health care from the mid-19th century through the early twentieth. In recent decades, the population has declined dramatically due to a shift towards community-based care and improved drug therapies.
Left in the wake are the massive structures, that though abandoned and decaying, provide a compelling narrative about the patients, their caretakers, and the environment in which they both existed.
Payne married his knowledge and love of architecture with his photographic skills to capture scenes of palatial marble staircases covered with debris, long corridors with ribbons of peeling paint, colorful rows of unclaimed tooth brushes, plants that long ago escaped the confines of well-manicured lawns, once-state-of-the-art medical equipment and items that were vital to the daily care or end-of-life-needs of the vast populations of institutionalized patients.
A companion book to the exhibition, Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals, Photographs by Christopher Payne with an Essay by Oliver Sacks was published by MIT Press in 2009.
Chris Payne (b. 1968), trained as an architect and is a graduate of Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. His interest in historic buildings and industrial architecture began shortly after college when he documented cast-iron bridges, grain elevators, and power plants for the Historic American Engineering Record of the National Park Service. Later, he produced measured drawings for New York University’s excavations at Aphrodisiac, a Greco-Roman city in Turkey.
His first book, New York’s Forgotten Substations: The Power Behind the Subway (Princeton Architectural Press, 2002), offered rare, dramatic views of the behemoth machines that are hidden behind modest facades in New York City.
Payne has been awarded grants by he Graham Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. He continues to specialize in the documentation of America’s vanishing architectural and industrial landscape.
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