August 7, 2007
by Canadian Architect
Richard Misrach, a pioneer of colour photography, has long been known for his images of the American desert. But five years ago, he turned his eyeand his camerato a completely new subject: the beach. These monumental photographs of beaches, the ocean, sunbathers, and swimmers signal a new direction for Misrach that is both playful and deeply contemplative. While a few of these images have been exhibited over the past few years, never before have so many been seen together. Twenty of Misrachs large-scale, rapturous surf and sand studies will make their museum debuts at the Art Institute of Chicago this fall before embarking on a two-year national tour. Richard Misrach: On the Beach opens at the Art Institute on September 15, 2007, in Photography Galleries 14. The show closes November 25, 2007. Misrach will attend as an honoured guest at Snapthe benefit gala organized by the Art Institutes Photography Departmenton September 14, 2007. In addition, the artist will speak on the exhibition opening day, September 15, at noon in Fullerton Hall.
Ive come to believe that beauty can be a very powerful conveyor of difficult ideas, Richard Misrach has said. For more than 30 years, he has been producing stunning photographs of horrific subjects, focusing on mans often-disastrous effect on the land. His previous work in the series Desert Cantos explores the American desertfires and floods, military-scarred terrain and pits of dead animalsin lush images that accentuate the formidable power and terrible beauty of the landscape. His new series On the Beach works with similarly productive juxtapositions. All of the images originate from a very high viewpoint that does not include any sort of horizon. As a result, humans appear miniscule, and the vast expanses of sand and water offer a radically different perspective to the viewer. The images are very large: new digital technology has made possible dramatically scaled prints, some as large as 6 x 10 feet. As a result, the photographs, with their dizzying viewpoints and lack of narrative suggestion, are strangely disorienting. Depicting people as small, often isolated figures in an immense scene, the photographs remind us of the fragility and relative unimportance of humanity in the face of seemingly infinite nature. To a greater extent than even Misrachs own desert photographs, these powerful pictures partake of the sublime in the sense that the 18th-century philosopher of aesthetics Edmund Burke articulated: they produce astonishment, awe, and perhaps even terror.
All of this is fitting for pictures made after the events of September 11, 2001, for although sunny and colourful, these photographs also evoke a post-apocalyptic world; the title On the Beach explicitly references Nevil Shutes Cold War novel about nuclear holocaust. The figures floating in the sea in Untitled #394-03 seem to plummet through an endless cerulean abyss, arms flailing to their sides; the illusion is encouraged by the disorienting aerial view and absence of other figures or landmarks for reference. In other images, lone figures or clinging couples appear to be the last people on the planet. Misrachs particular gift for expressing difficult and troubling ideasdevastation, alienation, decay, isolationthrough images of rare beauty is fully on display in this new series. From its premiere at the Art Institute of Chicago, the exhibition will travel to the Contemporary Museum in Honolulu; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington; and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
Richard Misrach: On the Beach is curated by Elizabeth Siegel, Associate Curator of Photography, the Art Institute of Chicago. This exhibition was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and made possible by David Yurman.