Turn Turn Turn is an anthology of life’s joys and sorrows as visualized in modern and contemporary art. Inspired by the lyrical language of Ecclesiastes 3, which meditates on the circular nature of time as reflected in the seasons, the exhibition addresses the ongoing cycle of changing circumstances in the course of human events. Its title is taken from Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season), a song Pete Seeger wrote in the late 1950s and whose lyrics came from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes in the King James Version (1611) of the Bible. The Byrds, an American folk rock band, immortalized the song in 1965. In the context of the politically turbulent 1960s in America, Seeger’s lyrics implied that time might be at hand for change and social justice. Although the title of the song is not found in Scripture, it suggests the passage of time and the medieval rota fortunae or wheel of fortune, an emblem of the recurring nature of life’s blessings and losses.
Ecclesiastes is a canonical book of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testament. The introduction to its third chapter is one of the most eloquent expressions of life’s mutability in all of sacred literature. In poetry rather than prose, it starts with “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Turn Turn Turn, likewise, begins with Grant Wood’s “Calendar Prints” that chronicle the changing seasons of the agricultural Midwest. Each of the seven verses following this initial statement in Ecclesiastes 3 is a thematic section of the exhibition. These lines, set forth in binary opposites, proclaim that there are specific times in the circle of life that may be cause for jubilation or anguish.
Turn Turn Turn illuminates these decisive times in life with works of art drawn primarily from the museum’s permanent collection. It gives image to Ecclesiastes 3 through the lens of modern and contemporary art. With wild abandon, a woman gyrates to a jazz band in Karl Wirsum’s Fire Lady or Monk’s Key Broad (1969). “A time to kill” is evoked in Claes Oldenburg’s Ray Gun (1972), while Ed Paschke’s stark and frightening duo, Kontato and Kontata, declare “A time to hate.” On a more poignant note, Archie Lieberman’s Mrs. Holland with granddaughter, rural Wisconsin (1985) captures “A time to embrace.”
The narrator of the Book of Ecclesiastes, proverbially King Solomon but now thought to be an anonymous author, asks an essential question: “Is life worth living?” Modern commentators largely see Ecclesiastes as uplifting. As an antidote to life’s reversals, the celebrated wisdom text counsels, as does Turn Turn Turn, a joy in work and life's simple pleasures.