Something special is happening at the Sarasota Art Museum (SAM).  Some may even call it cosmic. On April 21, SAM unveiled The Truth of the Night Sky: Anne Patterson and Patrick Harlin, a brand new, immersive exhibition organized in collaboration with the Hermitage Artist Retreat. The show is the brainchild of multimedia artist Anne Patterson and composer Patrick Harlin, who met in 2014 while in residence at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. 

Although the two artists work in different mediums, Patterson and Harlin share a few distinct commonalities that have paved the way for The Truth of the Night Sky, the culmination of their artistic work together. To start, Patterson is a synesthete who sees color and shape when she hears sound, especially classical music. Harlin is a composer who weaves together classical, jazz and electronic music to create his works. Both, however, have a deep admiration and respect for the natural world. It is this respect for nature and mutual yearning to look deep into the star-filled sky that served as the inspiration for The Truth of the Night Sky

For viewers, the sensation of walking through the space promises to be like no other. Through the interweaving of Patterson’s sculptural installations and Harlin’s celestial compositions, The Truth of the Night Sky is meant to evoke the feeling of traveling on an intergalactic journey. The multimedia installation, which spans two gallery spaces, is set to the processional music of Harlin’s 2021 composition Earthrise. The work, directly inspired by the seminal 1968 photograph of Earth from the Apollo 8 space mission, sets the tone for the exhibition—the piece is at once ethereal, resoundent and hopeful. 

“Patrick had composed this classical music piece called Earthrise in 2021. This really inspired him and Patterson to talk about what this collaboration could look like,” says Dr. Rangsook Yoon senior curator at SAM and curator of the show. “Both of them are really interested in nature and concerned about climate change and the preservation of earth. They started to compare their notes and got to creating this exhibition in which people can have an immersive adventure and walk through the galleries seeing Anne’s works while listening to Patrick’s composition.”

Photography by Wes Roberts

The Truth of the Night Sky is designed to be rooted in the stars. To get the most out of each artists’ work, the collaboration is divided into sections, each a stepping stone on the lunar voyage of the viewer. Upon entering the first gallery, viewers will be greeted with select excerpts from Harlin’s 20-minute orchestral composition, paired specifically with certain pieces from Patterson’s career. These pieces include sculptures, paintings and drawings from multiple series of Patterson’s, including Stars Spinning Through Spring and The Truth of the Night Sky. Sculptures from Stars Spinning Through Spring include Fire Star and Galactic Ice, abstract pieces forged out of piano wire, steel, fabric and resin that connote the volatility of these celestial formations. An assembly of driftwood, thread and gold leaf create the Weeping Tree, hung about 30 feet high in the gallery space, cementing the viewer in a sense of time and space. “Part of what I think is beautiful about this exhibition is that it’s very poetic,” says Yoon. “In the first gallery, we see this almost dead looking tree that’s hung majestically in the air. There are these golden leaves hung from the branches of this static tree that are falling like stars– those are the “tears’’ of the Weeping Tree. It really anchors us to the artist.”

Following the Weeping Tree is a section with eight sculptural works from Patterson’s Celestial Orbs series, circular compositions of steel piano wire, resin and gold leaf, again paired with a specific excerpt from Earthrise. The layout of The Truth of the Night Sky is carefully curated–while viewers can simply look at each sculpture and move on, following the pathway of illuminated lights that appear under each work more closely aligns with the artists’ intentions for the space. “They  wanted to almost transform the space as though it’s a concert hall or theater. Meaning that unlike how people typically interact with museums, which is a more individual approach, ideally visitors will walk together through the space, collectively experiencing the exhibition together,” says Yoon. “When we go to a concert hall and sit down with the rest of the audience, we are all going to hear the same music at the same time.They wanted to give you that feeling.”

The cosmic journey culminates when viewers enter the second gallery space, which has been completely transformed for the exhibition. Thousands of colored ribbons cascade from the ceiling to the floor, bathed in projected abstract images while Harlin’s Earthrise plays in full. The projections illuminate the ribbons, reflecting light in a way that, when synchronized with Harlin’s composition, evoke the sensation of traveling through the cosmos. “The artists wanted to create this imaginary intergalactic journey that makes you think about the vast possibilities of the universe,” says Yoon. “It gives way to this awe inspiring moment where you’re lost in this vast universe.”


Photography by Wes Roberts

The Truth of the Night Sky, however, is about something deeper than just an imaginary journey through space and time. It is a reflection point, reminiscent of how humbling it truly is to look up at a star-filled sky. It’s a reminder that as mankind floods the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and sea levels continue to rise, nature deserves our respect. 

“The Apollo 8 mission, which birthed the original Earthrise photo and later Patrick’s composition, was the catalyst for changing the environmental movement and the foundation for Earth Day. Patrick and Anne were thinking about that image and how it changed our perspective about the earth,” says Yoon. “They’re trying to create a semblance of that opportunity through this exhibition–for us to really think about where we are in this moment, in this uncertain time of climate change. It’s also meant to give us a sense of hope and respite as well.”