Thursday, August 23, 2007

Salt Dreams: Reflections from the Downstream West Tour Blueprint


The Salt Dreams exhibition consists of approximately twenty-five platinum palladium photographic prints of the Salton Sea, California’s largest (man-made) lake, and its surrounding environs, made by artist Joan Myers. Six additional prints depict other greatly-altered landscapes in Hawaii and Arizona. All of the prints contained in the exhibition are recent acquisitions for the NMA’s Altered Landscape: Carol Franc Buck Collection. The book published in coordination with the exhibition, Salt Dreams: Land and Water in Low-Down California, written by William deBuys, and published by the University of New Mexico Press, contains both portfolios of Myers’ photographs of the Salton Sea area, as well as fine essays by deBuys. The book won the 1999 Western States Book Award for Creative Nonfiction.

The exhibition lends itself to discussions of California history, themes of immigration and settlement, water issues in the west, human alteration of landscapes, and agriculture, as well as ecology, biology, and chemistry. Finally, the photographs present a wonderful opportunity to discuss the processes and methods of photography, particularly of the platinum palladium variety.

The exhibition of Salt Dreams was originally organized by the California Council for the Humanities in conjunction with the Museum of History and Art, Ontario, California.
This exhibition is presented here as part of the NMA Art + Environment exhibition series, an initiative that brings community, artists, and scholars together to explore the interaction between people and their environments.

Joan Myers, “Salton Sea Telephone Poles” n.d. Platinum palladium print with watercolor. Collection of the Nevada Museum of Art.

Artist’s Statement
Forty miles southeast of Palm Springs, California, lies a great saltwater lake called the Salton Sea. Heavily polluted yet home to a large population of fish and birds, the lake has attracted get-rich developers, gullible buyers, and aimless retirees for nearly a century.

The Salton Sea was an accident. In 1905 the Colorado River burst a poorly made irrigation heading and for two years flowed unimpeded into a giant prehistoric lakebed called the Salton Sink. The water formed a spectacular lake in the arid southwest desert.

For the last fifteen years, I have photographed what has happened to the Salton Sea. In the years since the landlocked sea was formed, irrigation run-off from the Imperial Valley and industrial waste from Mexico have slowly raised salinity, pesticide and toxic mineral levels of the water. Poor water quality now endangers the teeming fish as well as the fishermen and birds that eat them.

Environmental abuse has been matched by the avarice of real estate speculators. Over the years developers built subdivisions on the shores of the Salton Sea. They planted palm trees along wide curving avenues named Marina Drive, Dolphin, and Acapulco. Yet I found that few homes were built on the thousands of developed lots. I marveled at a once elegant yacht club, motel, and golf course that today lie abandoned. I photographed the weeds growing up through the cracks in the wide roads.

Today great flocks of pelicans fly over what has become a fetid sump. Desiccated fish line the sandy beaches. The lake lies fallow, a pastel shimmer in the harsh Colorado Desert, a symbol of dead dreams and the beauty of a landscape man has uncaringly exploited.

Platinum Palladium Photography
Photographs made using platinum and platinum palladium printing processes are among the most sought-after photographs because of their relative value, their increased archival longevity over silver gelatin prints, and because of their much higher tonal range. Writer and photographer William Laven explains them this way: “The qualities of a Pt/Pd [platinum/palladium] print have long been heralded by photographers, curators, critics and collectors; it has a long, rich and delicate tonal scale and unmatched archival quality. What might be a monochromatic black on a silver print, for example, will be rendered as a series of subtly differentiated tones in a Pt/Pd print. Similarly, middle and highlight tones are more delicately defined. Since the prints are hand-coated onto rag paper, the image actually sits in the fiber of the paper so the texture and weave of the paper become integral to the image compared to silver prints where the emulsion layer sits on top of, rather than in, the paper surface. Pt/Pd prints therefore, have a tactile quality unique to hand-coated non-silver materials. The long scale and tactility of a Pt/Pd print are what cause many people to describe them as ‘precious’ or ‘jewel-like.’” (From an essay in View Camera magazine, July/August 1998, Vol. 11, No. 4.)

Platinum and platinum palladium prints require ultraviolet light to be printed; therefore, they require considerably more exposure time than other silver salt-based printing processes. However, unlike gelatin silver prints, platinum and platinum palladium prints do not need to be “fixed” with chemical stops.

Joan Myers, “Salton Sea Birds” 1987. Platinum palladium print with watercolor. Collection of the Nevada Museum of Art.

Tour Framework

  • Explain that the works in the exhibition were created by an artist named Joan Myers, who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

  • Explain that Joan Myers was born in 1944 in Des Moines, Iowa, and had an early interest in the sciences and mathematics. In the early 1970's she turned to photography. Today she utilizes various digital methods, as well as the platinum-palladium photographic process and continues her exploration of hand-applied color. She uses medium- and large-format view cameras.

  • Ask guests why they think there might be a large, increasingly salty lake in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Why might it be of interest as a subject to Myers?

  • Explain that today the Salton Sea is located in Imperial County, in the lower Colorado Desert Province of California. It is not actually a “sea,” but a human-made lake filling up the Salton Sink or Salton Trough, the dominant geologic feature in this area of California. However, in ancient times, there was a naturally occurring occasional lake in this area called “Lake Cahuilla,” named for one of the primary groups of people indigenous to this area of California.

  • People in our area will understand the similarity of the Salton Sink to the Carson and Humboldt Sinks, so making the connection for them may be helpful.

  • Explain that the photographs in this exhibition are platinum palladium prints. This means that the prints are made with an iron salt “emulsion” that contains platinum and palladium, as well as hydrogen peroxide and other chemicals, which is painted or rolled onto a piece of paper and allowed to dry. The photographer then projects an ultraviolet light through a negative onto the paper, and the light reacts with the iron salts, platinum, and palladium, causing the platinum and palladium to build up to varying degrees in the image. In this case, Myers then hand colored the prints with subtle watercolor washes.

  • Explain that artists and collectors value platinum palladium prints for their non-reflective surface; their very delicate and large tonal range; their tendency to resist curling; and their archival stability, due to their frequently being printed on 100% rag papers.

  • Stop at the photograph entitled Horse Intaglio (Altered Landscape Gallery). Ask guests what they see in the photograph. What do they see first? What do they think the artist has done to make that element stand out? Ask guests if they know what the word intaglio means. Explain that intaglios are ancient pieces of land art created by indigenous peoples—they are images incised into the surface of rocks or the ground.

  • Explain that the geographical area depicted in the photographs is the ancestral homeland of the indigenous peoples sharing the Yuma languages, including the Cahuilla, Quechan, and Cucupa bands of American Indians. These peoples were variously dependent upon desert springs, the Colorado River and its delta, and its related plant and animal communities for survival. Explain that these peoples frequently created large-scale intaglios incised into the surface of the earth.

  • Stop at the photograph called Torres-Martinez Reservation. Explain that the 1905 flood that created the Salton Sea inundated half of the lands belonging to the native peoples resident in the region. This after the lands allotted to them in treaties from the 1870s gave the Indian people small pieces of non-contiguous land.
  • Ask guests whether they think the photo of Torres-Martinez Reservation depicts an “American Dream,” or whether it offers a commentary on the notion of the “American Dream.”

  • Explain that Spanish explorers began passing through the Salton Sea area in the 1500s, and in 1540 Hernan de Alarcón, part of Coronado’s land expedition through the southwest, traveled up the Colorado River. Melchior Díaz, also part of the expedition, probably ventured as far as what is now called the Imperial Valley. The area’s extreme aridity and lack of gold meant that the region remained relatively untouched for three more centuries.

  • Ask guests what major historical event they know began in 1848-49 in California.

  • Explain that following the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, California, in 1848, tens of thousands of migrants moved west across the U.S., and north from Latin America, hoping to strike it rich. Approximately 10,000 would-be gold miners crossed the Imperial Valley and the Salton Sink depicted in these photographs.

  • Explain that U.S. Army explorers returned to the region in the 1850s under the auspices of exploring the possibility of a railroad in the Pacific Railroad Exploring Expedition of 1853. Expedition geologist William Phipps Blake noted that the Imperial Valley, though arid, could be successfully irrigated to support agriculture.

  • Stop at the photograph called Date Palm in the Altered Landscape Gallery. Explain that between 1869 and 1891, Major John Wesley Powell also saw the potential for agriculture in the Imperial Valley, calling it the “Egypt of America,” as it was “the land of the date palm.” As such, a connection was drawn between the fertile richness of the Nile River and its agricultural bounty and the arid Imperial Valley, if irrigation were realized. Ask guests if they can see texture in the photograph. Explain the difference between “real” and “implied” texture. Ask how the date palm in the photograph looks like it would feel if they could touch the plant. If guests could touch the photo, would it have the texture of the date palm?

  • Explain that, realizing the potential for agriculture, the California Development Company (CDC) and its subsidiary, the Imperial Land Company (which is how the county got its name when it was incorporated in 1907), began to develop a vast system of irrigation canals to bring the waters of the Colorado River to the desert floor.

  • Stop at the photograph called Imperial Valley Canal in the Altered Landscape Gallery. Explain that the CDC built the Imperial Canal and over 700 miles of waterways to bring the Colorado River’s water to the desert floor of the Imperial Valley. By 1902, some 100,000 acres of land were in cultivation. A good image depicting the cultivated lands is Imperial Valley Field, Spinach, immediately adjacent to Imperial Valley Canal. Ask guests if they see a pattern in the photograph. Where? How does the way the artist composed the image move your eye around the image?

  • Explain that a spring flood in 1905 burst through the CDC’s irrigation headings in the canal system, flooding the valley floor. Eventually, nearly all of the Colorado River’s water was flowing through the canals, and emptying in the valley floor, forming what is now the Salton Sea depicted in the photographs. The flow of the river’s water into the Salton Sink was not stemmed for two years.

  • Explain that after the Southern Pacific Railroad built flood control gates (1907) on the river and canal system to protect its railways, less water entered the Sea, and, combined with evaporation, the depth of the lake shrank from 80 feet to closer to 30 feet by 1930. Eventually engineers diverted more Colorado River water to maintain the depth of the lake at about 30 feet.

  • Stop at almost any of the photographs depicting evidence of development, including Salton City Golf Course (Bridge) (Altered Landscape Gallery), Salton City Golf Course (Palms) (Installation Gallery), or any of the photographs of the Salton Bay Yacht Club. Explain that in the late 1950s land speculators, real estate developers, and others believed that the Salton Sea could be transformed into an inexpensive version of the resort community of Palm Springs, located 40 miles to the north northwest. Can guests see subtle colors in the golf course photographs? Where? What effect does the coloring of the photographs have on them? Do the subtle watercolor washes convey the colors of the desert around the Salton Sea?

  • Explain that this version of the “American Dream” was never truly realized because of the lack of industry, inadequate infrastructure, the extreme heat, and the water’s foul smell due to its stagnation, increased salinity and eutrophication, and resulting die-off of fish and birds.

  • Explain that as a result of decreased flows of Colorado River and canal waters, as well as increased flows of New River and Alamo River waters, which contain a great deal more salt and nutrients from agricultural runoff, the salinity of the lake’s waters is increasing at an alarming rate. In addition, the nutrients from the agricultural runoff cause algal blooms in the water, which reduces the oxygen content of the water, and results in fish and bird die offs.
  • Ask guests if they can find evidence in the photographs of the fact that the Salton Sea is today of major ecological significance to coastal California.
  • Explain that as a result of development in southern California in the twentieth century, the varied landscapes there that once supported diverse wildlife populations no longer do. The Salton Sea thus became a human-made refuge for wildlife, particularly migratory waterfowl. Today the Salton Sea is a major stop on the Pacific Flyway for migrating water birds. However, the increasing salinity and eutrophication of the Sea’s waters is endangering the health of the birds and fish, resulting at times in the die off of large numbers of the animals. What kinds of textures do the photographs of the dead fish and birds contain?
  • Explain that today, were the water level of the Salton Sea not to be maintained, there would be toxic levels of salt and other chemicals built up in the sediments of the lake, that, were they to dry, could cause health concerns downstream and downwind of the Salton Sea. (This is similar to the problems at Owens Lake documented in David Maisel’s Lake Project photographs).
  • Explain that arguments erupt from all points of view about how best to manage the Salton Sea. Today the water level is maintained at a specific level, but even so, runoff is causing increasing salinity and eutrophication. These photographs ask, in effect: Why is the American Dream so pervasive? Why do people try to alter the landscape, first to irrigate the desert for agricultural purposes, then to turn an “accident” into a (failed) “resort community”? What can be done about the increasing salinity and eutrophication of the water? What is the best, most cost effective, or otherwise pragmatic solution?
Our guests, particularly school groups, choose to visit the museum to give students a special opportunity, to enrich their learning experiences, and to have fun. The information and the tour framework suggestions contained in this blueprint are avenues into the Salt Dreams: Reflections from the Downstream West exhibition. The blueprint is designed to provide ideas for engaging guests of all ages in exploring the artistry of Joan Myers photographs, as well as ideas for helping student visitors engage in thinking about the photographs through frameworks of history, social studies, biology, ecology, and geology.

Joan Myers, “Salton Sea Small Building” 1987. Platinum palladium print with watercolor. Collection of the Nevada Museum of Art.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Barry Flanagan :: Large Left-Handed Drummer

"Dexterously the Drummer was right handed, there are examples in bronze from that mould in other locations.

The left handedness of this Drummer speaks to the other side of the brain, from the past to the future; another tune in composure.

Broadway!! A seed of hope after the conviction. I would subtitle this piece ‘I don’t want to set the world on fire.'"

– Barry Flanagan, on the installation of Large Left-Handed Drummer in Brooklyn, Summer 2007

New on the NMA Rooftop! Come look, dance around, and ring in the arrival of the wonderfully playful sculpture Large Left-Handed Drummer, by British sculptor Barry Flanagan. Flanagan is most well-known for his large-scale bronze hare sculptures, of which Large Left-Handed Drummer is one. It stands some 16 feet tall, and appears to be drumming out of some joy at looking out on the Northern Sierra and the Great Basin.

From the Irish Museum of Modern Art:

"Barry Flanagan’s series of hare sculptures, which he began in the late 1970s, are among the most instantly recognisable artworks of the last 20 years. Playful, spontaneous and full of life, many show their subject engaged in human activities – dancing, playing musical instruments and sports and, more recently, using technology. Visitors to IMMA are already familiar with The Drummer, which has marked the main entrance to the Museum since its donation by the artist in 2001. The exhibition brings together 11 similar works, spanning the many ingenious variations which Flanagan has brought to this strand of his work. In Empire State with Bowler Mirrored, 1997, for example, we see two matching hares stepping jauntily over the Empire State Building, while their more pensive counterpart in Large Troubadour, 2004, sits apparently disconsolately alongside his cello, as if questioning his ability as a musician.

"Flanagan sees the hare as a particularly suitable vehicle for these human endeavours and emotions, “…if you consider what conveys situation and meaning in a human figure, the range of expression is in fact more limited than the device of investing an animal – a hare especially – with the expressive attributes of a human being. The ears for instance are able to convey far more than a squint in the eye of a figure, or a grimace in the face of the model.”

Flanagan was born in North Wales in 1941. He studied at Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts before going on to further schooling at the St. Martin's School of Art in London, where he also taught after he completed his own schooling. He has also taught at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London. Flanagan represented Britain in the 1982 Venice Biennale. He has been the subject of major exhibitions all over the world, most recently in a major retrospective exhibition of his work at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. You'll also see a nice photograph of the sculpture installed in New York City at Flickr.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Christine Karkow :: Americana Inn, 2005

Local artist Christine Karkow works in drawing, digital imagery, sculpture, and paintings. This mixed media work of a Reno motel gets at the dark side of the American dream. The images of derelict Nevada casinos and motels are tied to her fascination of the western U.S. as a place where identities can be made or destroyed along with the dreams that accompany them. Karkow addresses myths of a good life and the physical and mental destruction of the land. This may be the Americana Inn that is located at the corner of 4th and Lake Streets in Reno.

Stuart Allen :: Studio Lines

Stuart Allen, Zig Zag From Head to Toe, (c) 2002.

Artist's statement for Studio Lines:

In a darkened photography studio, I record simple physical gestures with long exposures and a flashlight. The titles explain the motion – Arm Circle, for example, depicts the perimeter of a circle made by my rotating arm.
The images reflect an action rather than a single moment within that action, thus capitalizing on photography’s ability to compress a span of time into one frame. They are self-portraits, but they depict movement rather than appearance. They document the mechanics and geometry of my body in motion.

Fred Reid :: Royal Landscape, 2007

Installation image, Fred Reid, Royal Landscape (c) Fred Reid 2007.

From the wall label:

Royal Landscape is a tribute to two northern
Nevada authors he admires: Robert Laxalt and Sessions S. Wheeler. One of Nevada’s most prominent writers, Laxalt typed all of his manuscripts on a Royal typewriter and authored Travels With My Royal: A Memoir of the Writing Life in 2001. Wheeler is well-known for his 1985 historical study Nevada’s Black Rock Desert
. Reid used color and form to indirectly refer to the literary works by these men.

Miroslav Antic :: Untitled (Palazzo Series), 2001

From the Creiger-Dane Gallery:

“Known for work of exceptional visual and conceptual intricacies, Miroslav Antic’s current work continues to seduce his viewers into an unconscious dialogue about the nature of painting.

In Antic’s current series, super-realist raindrops lay lightly spattered over interior views of famous European palaces. Antic spares no detail in painting the spacious and luxurious rooms, complete with vast archways, columns, winding staircases, statues and fine architectural detailing. Employing his incredible skill with paint, Antic depicts breathtakingly beautiful scenes that have immense spatial depth, as well as a subtle sense of light and stillness. Antic is able to impart these paintings with an air of mystery and times long past, as they seem to exist in quiet perfection with nothing out of place and nobody in sight.

Antic paints in numerous and varied layers, which serve to obscure and somewhat mask these far distant views, forcing the viewer to visually and emotionally search his works. One tries desperately to see clearly what literally recedes into the picture plane, as well as metaphorically into the past. Illusion and beauty, mainstays in the tradition of painting, play a vital role in Antic's work. But choosing not to rely on these attributes alone, Antic instead employs these skills to lure the viewer into searching his work for insight into the nature of painting. While realistic and skilled, the works are also abstracted and obscured; they contain a great deal of illusory space, and yet have raindrops painted on top which reinforces the flat picture plane; although imparting a wonderful sense of light, the works are mostly monochromatic. Always beautiful and skilled, Antic's work nonetheless holds even greater rewards beyond the purely aesthetic for those willing to question.” […]

“Miroslav Antic’s newest work is a beautiful culmination of themes and thought processes that have concerned him for some time. In the broadest sense, Antic teases the viewer to share in a dialogue he engages in, that between the traditional depiction of deep space and the modernist achievement of flatness. Antic paints breathtaking images of Old World beauty, distant mysterious figures caught in eerie monochromatic darkness. He then paints over them a layer of water drops, like rain that is collected on a window during a stormy night. The effect is multi-fold- Antic technically re-enforces the flat picture plane, as well as conceptually distances and bars us from his illusions of beauty.

Antic’s work is evidence of his persistent struggle with the concept of beauty in an age when minimalism and conceptualism threaten to denigrate such an ideal to begin outmoded and conservative; or conversely, when the tendency to nostalgia threatens to make beauty merely sentimental and sweet. Miroslav Antic is able to walk a fine line between both views, drawing the viewer into a gorgeously crafted dialogue between the past and the present, what is real and what is fake, what is valid in the tradition of art and what is not.”

Peter Goin :: Mengejar Kebehagian (The Pursuit of Happiness)

Detail from Mengejar Kebehagian (The Pursuit of Happiness), (c) Peter Goin, 2007.

From the wall label:

Peter Goin’s large-scale photogram panels present a variety of ongoing narratives that can be read individually or collectively. They are inspired by Indonesian shadow puppetry—an ancient form of entertainment in which articulated puppet figures appear to move in front of an illuminated backdrop. Goin created his photograms in a photography darkroom by positioning small figures cut from matboard on light-sensitive paper and exposing them to light before developing them with normal chemical process.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Carol Hepper :: Untitled

Carol Hepper grew up on a ranch on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles a large area of north-central South Dakota and south-central North Dakota. She came to prominence creating sculptures made of natural materials—wood, deer hide, bone—that eflected the place from which she had come. Her work responds to the popularity of minimalist sculpture; a teacher from South Dakota State University who was also a Joseph Beuys devotee encouraged her to work with non-mainstream materials. “Ultimately,” she says, “I guess I’m working in the area where nature and culture meet, with the alchemy that results when ideas and matter mix.” Her small sculpture in this exhibition is indicative of the ideas she has worked with in many others: the fragile balance between life and death, and the relationship between the organic and inorganic, harmony and chaos, external and internal, the natural and the manufactured.

Robert Morrison :: Coyote's Dream

Bob Morrison’s work is a tribute to installation and performance works by the German artist Joseph Beuys, who came to prominence in the 1960s as a result of his flamboyant and sometimes controversial efforts to use his art to get at the power of universal human creativity. He had been a German pilot in World War II, and a P.O.W., but he later became a vocal opponent to Nazi era German practices, and eventually became an avowed pacifist and vocal opponent to nuclear proliferation, and was very much involved in progressive German politics.

Beuys’s felt hat was a signature element for him, and one of his most well-known performance pieces, or Aktions, as he called them—“I Like America and America Likes Me” (May 1974)—featured Beuys wrapped in a felt blanket, holding a cane-like staff. The Action was an elaborately staged performance commemorating the opening of the Rene Block Gallery in New York. He spent three days in the gallery with a live coyote. “After flying into New York, he was swathed in felt and loaded into an ambulance, then driven to the gallery where the Action took place, without having once touched American soil. As Beuys later explained: ‘I wanted to isolate myself, insulate myself, see nothing of America other than the coyote.’

The title of the work is filled with irony. Beuys opposed American military actions in Vietnam, and his work as an artist was a challenge to the hegemony of American art. Beuys’s felt blankets, walking stick and gloves became sculptural props throughout the Action. In addition, fifty new copies of the Wall Street Journal were introduced each day, which the coyote acknowledged by urinating on them. Beuys regularly performed the same series of actions with his eyes continuously fixed on the coyote. At other times he would rest or gather the felt around him to suggest the figure of a shepherd with his crook. The coyote’s behaviour shifted throughout the three days, becoming cautious, detached, aggressive and sometimes companionable. At the end of the Action, Beuys was again wrapped in felt and returned to the airport.

For Native Americans, the coyote had been a powerful god, with the power to move between the physical and the spiritual world. After the coming of European settlers, it was seen merely as a pest, to be exterminated. Beuys saw the debasement of the coyote as a symbol of the damage done by white men to the American continent and its native cultures. His action was an attempt to heal some of those wounds. ‘You could say that a reckoning has to be made with the coyote, and only then can this trauma be lifted’, he said. The title of this, his most famous action, is ironic. Beuys opposed American military actions in Vietnam, and his work as an artist was a challenge to the hegemony of American art. In effect, then, Morrison’s conceptual installation of Coyote’s Dream conjures up not only the historical event of “I Like America and America Likes Me,” but it also invokes similar kinds of themes and questions as Beuys’s work did in its original context: how can art free us from historical wrongs such as the Holocaust or Vietnam.

Jim Sanborn :: Photographs

Horse Valley, Utah IV, (c) 1996.

Text Projection: Blue Mesa, Utah
, (c) 1995.

From an interview with Jim Sanborn by Milena Kalinovska in Atomic Time: Pure Science and Seduction (Washington, D.C.,: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 2003):

From 1995 to 1998, I did a series of installations in the western United States. I had to give my espionage work a rest as it had taken a lot out of me. I decided to do a series of projects in the environment. I returned to the western landscape and completed a series of large-format projections in remote areas. My original intention was to recreate in some way the work of the nineteenth-century cartographers and photographers who were hired to map and photograph the monumental western landscape. […]

Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Smithson, James Turrell, and other artists were doing large-scale installations in the natural environment. Those projects affected the land tremendously, and not always with a pleasing effect on the environment. Bulldozers were brought onto the land, and the land itself was manipulated. I decided to counteract that in some way and still do very large outdoor installations. I had completed several in the early 1970s in which I placed objects in the environment, and the end result was photographs of the outdoor installations. […]

I learned to overpower natural daylight with large-format projections that I did for MIT in Cambridge in 1993. The projector I used at MIT was very expensive, so for this project I ordered the lenses and some of the mechanical parts from Austria and built my own. I got a large generator and put this equipment in the back of my four-wheel-drive vehicle and drove into remote areas of the West to do some very large-scale projections. I began doing these projections by testing them from my studio in Washington. I was able to project gigantic images on a warehouse a quarter mile away. I practiced in the urban environment and then took it into the wilderness. I took a 4x5 camera with me, and the projector I designed was like a gigantic slide projector that used 10x10-inch slides. I worked with a typography company that generated maybe a hundred different transparency images that I had drawn. I designed these
slide images based on Euclidean geometry. […]

I had to choose remote sites so that I didn’t get any lighting from cities or vehicles. The projections I was producing were so large and powerful that I knew they could be seen from miles away. I had to be in areas where I could work for five or six hours before anybody reached me. I was able to make images as wide as half a mile and have a very large impact on the environment without leaving a trace of what I had done. To me that was very important. I considered it a very gorgeous landscape, and I didn’t want to muck it up.[…]

Enigma : Absence + Presence in Contemporary Art

e∙nig´ma (e∙nĭg´mȧ), n.; pl. –MAS (mȧz). [L. aenigma, fr. Gr. ainigma, fr. ainissesthai to speak darkly, fr. ainos tale, fable.] 1. An obscure saying; a riddle; an obscure speech or writing. 2. Anything inexplicable; something hard to understand or explain; also, an inscrutable person. – Syn. See MYSTERY.

The Enigma: Absence + Presence in Contemporary Art exhibition consists of photographs, paintings, mixed media works, and sculptures by a variety of well- and lesser-known contemporary artists working in this country and abroad. It takes its name from the notion that contemporary art is more frequently about questions than answers, and invites viewers to engage with artworks that are not immediately knowable—instead, they require long, careful consideration of the multiple meanings and possibilities inherent within and about them.

From the exhibition’s text panel:

Although debates about the definition of art continue to unfold, many critics argue that the most successful art stimulates the human senses as well as the human mind. The contemporary artists featured in this exhibition use a variety of media to present artworks that appear puzzling and mysterious at first glance, but which also carry complex, multi-layered meanings just waiting to be deciphered.

The process an artist uses to create an artwork often adds to the intrigue of the final product. For example, photographers Stuart Allen and Jim Sanborn both set their cameras for long exposure times in order to manipulate and dramatize the lighting in their works. Peter Goin rejuvenates the tradition of the photogram—once used by theorists including Moholy Nagy and Man Ray—to create shadowy figures that tell an unfolding story. Conceptual sculptures by Fred Reid and Robert Morrison present mysterious shapes and forms that require viewers to probe historical contexts in order to understand them more fully.

The sculptures, photographs, and paintings in this exhibition encourage prolonged looking and contemplation, and their meanings are not always obvious. In 1969, artist Mark Boyle wrote that “in a condition of adamant doubt you are asked for explanations when all you want is for someone to explain anything. And you are asked for purposes when you are learning to accept that a purpose is not going to emerge ever.” As the works in this exhibition prove, good art stimulates the human senses as well as the human mind; it also often poses complicated questions instead of easy answers.