Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination


Diana Thater, Delphine, 1999. Four video projectors, nine-monitor video wall, five players, and four LED Wash Lights; overall dimensions variable. © Diana Thater. Art Institute of Chicago, Donna and Howard Stone New Media Fund, 2005.93.

exhibition description

Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination presents a series of immersive film and video installations that push the limit of these media to imagine animal experiences in natural habitats. In Delphine (1999), for example, LED lights activate the space, while projected film and video footage of dolphins from many angles simulate the animals’ underwater environment, including the ways they perceive it through sonar and sight. The intersection of film and video with installation practices in Thater’s work, which often incorporates viewers’ bodies and even the projectors themselves, is one of the artist’s major contributions to the field of contemporary art.

The colorful installations break out of the video rectangle—often falling somewhere between sculpture and architecture—to imagine fluid worlds of dolphins, dancing bees, and the animals that inhabit the irradiated explosion site at Chernobyl. The most comprehensive survey of the artist’s work to date, the exhibition includes early work Oo Fifi, Five Days in Claude Monet’s Gardens (1992), which breaks footage into the primary colors of video (RGB), as well as the recent work Life is a Time-Based Medium (2015), in which the architecture of the gallery converges with the Galtaji Temple in Jaipur, India, and is populated with monkeys.

Since the early 1990s, Diana Thater (American, b. 1962) has been a pioneer of film and video. Influenced by 1960s films that prioritized medium over narrative and content, she has forged meaningful connections between her subject matter and media to push the physical, optical, and conceptual boundaries of how moving images are experienced. Thater studied art history at New York University and received her MFA from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Her work has been collected by major institutions across the United States.

This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Chicago presentation is coordinated by Joey Orr, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow, and presented in the Griffin Galleries of Contemporary Art on the museum’s fourth floor.




Diana Thater, excerpt from A Cast of Falcons, 2008. Four video projectors, display computer, and two Source Four lights; overall dimensions variable. © Diana Thater. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London.


Diana Thater, excerpt from Six-Color Video Wall, 2000. Six video monitors and six players; overall dimensions variable. © Diana Thater. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Purchase, with funds from the Contemporary Committee and the Film and Video Committee.


Lead support for Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination is provided by the Harris Family Foundation in memory of Bette and Neison Harris: Caryn and King Harris, Katherine Harris, Toni and Ron Paul, Pam and Joe Szokol, Linda and Bill Friend, and Stephanie and John Harris; and Donna Stone in honor of Howard Stone. Additional generous support is provided by David Zwirner, New York.