Friday, October 30, 2020

DOUBLE VISION: SDMA Spotlights Twins and Filmed Musical Tour of the Museum

 By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt


From the “Mary Ellen Mark: Twins” exhibit: A photograph of Paula Mathis and Polly Mathis Wasdin, 29 years old, Polly older by 8 minutes. (Large-format Polaroid, 2002. Collection of Ken and Jacki Widder. Copyright: Estate of Mary Ellen Mark, Courtesy: Howard Greenberg Gallery)

“Mary Ellen Mark: Twins,” a striking display of photographs of identical twins, is currently the featured exhibition at San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA), on view through March 7, 2021. Created in 2001 and 2002, when Mark took a team of assistants and a large-format Polaroid camera to the annual Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, these portraits reveal the tiny individualities in each pair of twins—and one set of triplets—and are all accompanied by quotes excerpted from the photographer’s interviews with her subjects.

Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) was born and raised in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, which according to Wikipedia—is  known for its varied architectural styles, including early-20th-century homes designed by architects like Louis Kahn. She began taking photos at age 9 and went on to a Master’s in photojournalism at the University of Pennsylvania and a Fullbright Scholarship that took her to Turkey and led to her first book of photographs, “Passport.”

In the 1960s, she moved to New York City and became interested in portraying “strange people who are outside the borders of society." Her photographs appeared in LifeRolling StoneThe New YorkerNew York Times, and Vanity Fair. She also became a photographer on movie sets, shooting production stills of films like Alice’s Restaurant, Catch-22 and Apocalypse Now. 

The Twins exhibition was curated by SDMA’s Assistant Curator Cory Woodall, who selected 20 of Mark’s 30” x 22” portraits to show their diversity in ages and backgrounds. You can view eight of them on the SDMA website, but for the full experience, it’s best to go to the museum, which is now open again, six days a week. As Woodall pointed out, “It’s so much more interesting to see the photographs live—large-size, with all their detail and clarity—so you can stand right in front of them and really pinpoint the differences in each set of twins.”


 From the “Reflections” film: Twin marimbas in the museum’s Rotunda, played by percussionists Fiona Digney and James Beauton (Gary Payne Photography)

In fact, seeing Mark’s Twins at the museum inspired violinist Kate Hatmaker, executive director of Art of Elan, a group that offers new forms of chamber music to diverse audiences, to create a virtual program inaugurating their 14th season of concerts at SDMA. “Reflections,” an hour-long film showcasing musicians and dancers in four different galleries, is both a response to the exhibit and a musical tour of the museum.

“I was fascinated by the idea of twins mirroring each other,” Hatmaker said. “It reminded me of a line from Rumi: ‘The beauty you see in me is a reflection of you.’ And our film really gives you a sense of the museum’s spaces and the lovely combination of music and visual arts.”

“Reflections” will premiere November 10, along with a live introduction from the museum’s Rotunda by Kate Hatmaker and Anita Feldman, SDMA’s Director of Curatorial Affairs and Education. Tickets to the virtual event can be purchased on SDMA’s website. If you want to share the experience in your own time, you can BYO tickets later; a link will be available starting November 11 at

San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park
Tel: 619-232-7931
Open 10-5 daily except Sunday 12-5. Closed Wednesday.
Mary Ellen Mark: Twins” will be on view through March 7, 2021.

“Reflections” Tickets at $5 students, $10 adults. Online Premiere Event November 10, 7-8 pm.

Lonnie Burstein Hewitt is an award-winning author/lyricist/playwright who has written about arts and lifestyle for the La Jolla Light and other local media for over a dozen years. You can reach her at

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