At Sea


SALEM, MA -- This summer, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents two film installations by experimental filmmaker Peter Hutton, opening Saturday, July 30.  At Sea will screen in PEM's Nancy and George Putnam Gallery of Maritime Art, and Two Rivers will be presented in conjunction with Painting the American Vision, an exhibition of Hudson River School landscape paintings. Hutton's films ruminate on the passage of time and explore the interface of nature and industrialization. Their presentation at PEM marks the fourth exhibition in the museum's contemporary art initiative, FreePort.

"Through the medium of film, Hutton creates quietly astonishing works - reveries of landscape that are akin to slowly moving paintings," says PEM's curator of contemporary art, Trevor Smith. "Their patient and meditative quality harkens back to the traditions of painting and the primitive origins of film while connecting broadly to the themes of maritime exploration and environments in transition."

Hutton (b. 1944, Detroit) has spent nearly 40 years voyaging across the world to create poetic, intimate and luminously photographed film studies of place.  At Sea (2004-2007, 60 min.) depicts the life cycle of a container ship - from its mechanized and highly engineered construction in a Korean shipyard, to a late winter journey across the Atlantic, and ending with the manual labor of ship breakers on the shores of Bangladesh. The title of the film evokes a loss of perspective, a metaphor born from the experience of a sea journey and its ability to strip us of our sense of scale, time and distance.  At Sea is a sweeping meditation on global commerce, labor, geography and the experience of merchant ship travel in the 21st-century.

Using a split screen and fixed perspective, Two Rivers (2001-2003, 23 min.) tracks boat travel up New York's Hudson River and down China's Yangtze River. The film, loosely inspired by Henry Hudson's failed 1609 quest to discover a trade route between North America and China, bears witness to the ebb and flow of trade, industry and human progress. The Hudson River, occupying the left half of the screen, is filmed from atop a ship's deck, capturing the steady transition from the bustling port of Albany to the wooded quietude of the Northern Palisades. The Yangtze River is presented on the right, unfolding like a Chinese scroll painting of factory villages and sulfurous landscapes that have since been flooded by China's Three Gorges Dam project. Never before has Two Rivers been screened in a side-by-side presentation, as the artist originally intended. This is made possible by new high-definition video transfers that have been made for this unique dialogue with Hutton's work.


Peter Hutton studied painting, sculpture and film at the San Francisco Art Institute. He has taught filmmaking at CalArts, Hampshire College, Harvard University and SUNY Purchase, and for many years served as Director of the Film and Electronic Arts Program at Bard College where he still teaches.  A complete retrospective of his films appeared at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 2008. Film Comment named At Sea the best avant-garde film of the decade and in 2010, and Hutton's 1996 film, Study of a River, was named to the National Film Registry.


Exploring the roles of trade, exchange and translation in the dynamics of cultural change, each FreePort is an invitation to a contemporary artist to establish a unique dialogue with the museum and its audiences. Evoking PEM's 18th-century origins in global trade, FreePort facilitates the free exchange of ideas across disciplines critical to the evolution of a 21st century museum. Current and upcoming FreePort installations include:

FreePort [No. 002]: Marianne Mueller - on view through December 31, 2011
FreePort [No. 003]: Susan Philipsz ­­­­­­­- on view through November 6, 2011

FreePort [No. 004]: Peter Hutton - on view July 30 through March 27, 2012

FreePort [No. 005]: Michael Lin - on view 2012 (dates TBD)


Support provided by donors to the 2011 FreePort Fund and by the East India Marine Associates (EIMA) of the Peabody Essex Museum.


The Peabody Essex Museum presents art and culture from New England and around the world. The museum's collection is among the finest of its kind, showcasing an unrivaled spectrum of American art and architecture (including four National Historic Landmark buildings) and outstanding Asian, Asian Export, Native American, African, Oceanic, Maritime and Photography collections. In addition to its vast collection, the museum offers a vibrant schedule of changing exhibitions and a hands?on education center. The museum campus features numerous parks, period gardens and 22 historic properties, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200?year?old house that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States.

HOURS: Open Tuesday?Sunday and holiday Mondays, 10 am?5 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.  

ADMISSION: Adults $15; seniors $13; students $11. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $5. Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang.

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Whitney Van Dyke  -  Director of Communications  -  978-542-1828  -

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