Good heavens! Museum of Art offers one of the first major exhibitions of astrophotography

"Startrails," a 2011 inkjet print by Yuichi Takasaka, is one of the astrophotographs on display in the Museum of Art exhibition "Starstruck" through Dec. 15.

“Startrails,” a 2011 inkjet print by Yuichi Takasaka, is one of the astrophotographs on display in the Museum of Art exhibition “Starstruck” through Dec. 15.

The headlining exhibition at the Bates College Museum of Art this summer, Starstruck: The Fine Art of Astrophotography is among the first major exhibitions examining astrophotography as an art genre.

Media note: Anthony Shostak, the organizer of Starstruck and the museum’s education coordinator, appears on the WCSH-TV news magazine “207” to discuss the exhibition on Friday, Aug. 31. The program starts at 7 p.m. and airs on Channel 6 — don’t miss it!

Featuring 106 images by 35 artists from 11 countries across 5 continents, the exhibition opens with a reception and the lecture Drawing with Light by Weston Naef, a juror for the exhibition, at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 9. Starstruck runs through Dec. 15.

Starstruck events continue through fall 2012. Learn more.

The public is welcome to the exhibition and related events free of charge. The museum is located in the Olin Arts Center, 75 Russell St. For more information or to order the Starstruck catalog, please visit the museum’s exhibitions page.

The museum’s curator of education, Anthony Shostak, organized the exhibition, which, with its attendant catalog, will present new scholarship in the rapidly evolving field of astrophotography. Modern photographic technologies give artists immense freedom within the confines dictated by their celestial subjects.

An image from Alfred Stieglitz’s famous “Equivalent” series. Gelatin silver print, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Alfred Stieglitz Collection.

“Their creations,” says Shostak, “are nothing less than overwhelming, depicting humbling, glorious delights that are often invisible to both the naked eye and even the telescope, and are revealed only through photographic means.”

Nine artists are included in Starstruck by invitation to them or institutions representing them: Michael Benson, Linda Connor, Robert Gendler, Sharon Harper, David Malin, Thomas Ruff, Hans-Christian Schink, Alfred Stieglitz and Jacqueline Woods.

The remaining artists were selected through a jury process. The distinguished jurors are Naef, curator emeritus of photography at the J. Paul Getty Museum; Dennis di Cicco, pioneer of CCD astrophotography and senior editor of Sky & Telescope Magazine; and Jerry T. Bonnell, co-editor and author of NASA’s Web feature, Astronomy Picture of the Day.

A 242-page color catalog will document the exhibition, illustrate each work in it and feature essays by the jurors and Eric Wollman, professor of physics at Bates.

The sun, the changing face of the moon and stars adrift on the night sky have inspired humankind since prehistoric times, driving our understanding of the universe and igniting countless creative imaginations. For millennia, a glimpse of stars in a dark sky has provoked a sense of wonder that has inspired cultural phenomena from ancient creation myths to current cinema.

The firmament’s splendor has also captured the eye of photographers from the earliest history of their medium. Today their creations are gaining attention. “Starstruck showcases the increasingly popular genre of astronomical imaging,” says Bonnell. “The photographs represent a cosmic confluence of scientific exploration and the artistic process.”

An archival inkjet print of the emission nebula IC5067 by Ken Crawford.

“When we began organizing Starstruck,” says Shostak, “we found no evidence of large exhibitions investigating this genre in the context of an art museum. During the intervening years, a small handful of exhibitions have touched upon astrophotography, but none with the scope of our project.”

Starstruck is the perfect exhibition for an academic museum,” says Dan Mills, director of the Bates College Museum of Art. “Astronomy is a widely popular endeavor, linking people with the natural world and the quest to answer life’s ‘Big Questions.’

“At Bates, we investigate precisely those kinds of questions across the disciplines. Having an art exhibition serve as the nexus of that exploration is part of what makes us a different — and exciting — kind of museum.”

Starstruck will be accompanied by a wide variety of educational programs including lectures, workshops, guided star parties, concerts, theatrical performances and films.

It will also address environmental concerns. “Even as astrophotography enters a golden age of technological development and interest,” says Babak Tafreshi, artist and founder of The World at Night, “light pollution threatens to destroy humankind’s access to the starry sky.”

Acknowledging that the museum expects the exhibition to be extremely popular with a wide audience, Bonnell quips, “If you can’t find a good background for your laptop from this exhibition, you’re just not really trying.”

“Saturn,” a 2006 archival inkjet print by Damian Peach.