Mystic Halls 

Light on dark places at the Alameda Art Center.

When they were first built near the close of the 19th century in what was then rural Long Island, New York, Kings Park and Pilgrim Psychiatric Centers -- or "lunatic asylums," as they were known -- were reportedly the largest such institutions in the world. But times changed, and in the mid-1990s Kings Park was closed and combined with Pilgrim in a smaller facility, leaving their abandoned buildings to vandals and art photographers, two types of people who frequently haunt derelict structures.

One of the latter group is Oakland's Katherine Westerhout, who made a number of color film studies of both spooky hospitals, all crumbling corridors and available light. Without reference to the fact that the ruins in the photos were once scenes of electroshock therapy and other horrors, the shots of Kings Park are stylistically of a piece with Westerhout's photos of Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia -- views through doorways and down open galleries, with deep perspectives and natural light on distressed surfaces. She specializes in old, neglected, quiet, empty spaces. Large-scale (approx. three-by-four-foot) prints from Westerhout's "New York Mental Hospital Series" make up part of an exhibition,

The Light and the Dark: Photography that Challenges and Mystifies

, on display through April 28 at the Alameda Art Center (1701 Webster St., Alameda, 510-748-7888,

The other segment of the show is a competition, juried by photog Robert Buelteman, open to all photographers capable of challenging and mystifying. Some two hundred entrants responded to the art center's open call, but Lisah Horner, the center's executive director, doesn't much link their style to Westerhout's, except in the area of artistic risk-taking. She says Westerhout's photos are unique because "as a photographer, she is able to take an abandoned space and breathe new life into it. I saw her as someone who epitomizes unconventional and successful photography in the East Bay."

Westerhout speaks at the center on Thursday, April 14 at 7 p.m., alongside Kris Stoll from Trillium Press in Brisbane, who prints her work exclusively. For more info, visit


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