As Americans continue to die in combat the question comes up of
how to memorialize the dead and the battlegrounds they fought on.
The University’s Museum of Art is housed in Alumni Memorial
Hall, a facility built to commemorate the 1,500 alumni who died in
the Civil War.

In light of the current engagement in Iraq, Sept. 11 and the
Museum’s history, Sean Ulmer, curator of Modern and
Contemporary Art, jumped at the opportunity to show John
Huddleston’s project that photographs contemporary sites
touched by the Civil War.

In this exhibit Huddleston pairs historical images of the
conflict with his own color-photographed modern counterparts. Ulmer
notes Huddleston’s ability to place “a personal face on
war.”

The museum procured a piece from Huddleston to show Ann
Arbor’s involvement in the Civil War. Huddleston paired an
image of Ann Arborite John Noll with one of the battlefields that
he fought on at Wilderness, Va. This site remains a place of death,
as a modern-day farmer sprays pesticide in the field in
Huddleston’s contemporary photograph. This acquisition will
remain in the museum when the other 42 images travel.

Huddleston offers a comprehensive look at the conflict. He
covers all geographical regions, and soldiers are listed as
“American,” not as “Union” or
“Confederate.” This collection includes some of his
signature photographs that appear in his book. A particularly
poignant pairing shows a Kmart where a bomb shelter once stood.
Another pairing places dead from the battle of Gettysburg with a
football field complete with equipment. Ulmer says this exhibit is
meant to make visitors question “how we treat our charged
sites.”

Visitors should start at the panel with the explanation of the
exhibit and the new acquisition. After the Noll acquisition, the
images are hung chronologically so that the viewer can see how the
war unfolded. While it is nice to gain perspective on the
chronology of the war, this format doesn’t highlight the key
images particularly well.

Half of the exhibit resides in prime viewing space, but the
second half, due to space constraints, is tucked away in the lower
level of the museum in the Works on Paper Gallery.

The exhibit, while interesting, feels flat because all of the
images are mounted in the same size frame and are hung side by side
at the same level. The images succeed in drawing visitors in, but
the captions do not offer sufficient detail that visitors craze.
Visitors will leave the exhibit wanting more information on the
images and the experience of the Civil War.

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