Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Yosemite: Art of an American Icon Tour Blueprint

The Yosemite exhibitions consists of more than one hundred photographic prints, paintings, baskets, drawings, and media installations—all depicting and representing Yosemite National Park. The works range in time from 1855 to 2005, representing a century and a half of depictions of the park. Amy Scott, Curator of Visual Arts at Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West, curated all of the works for the exhibition, which come from the Autry’s permanent collection, as well as numerous private, public, and museum collections from around the U.S. The catalogue accompanying the exhibition, published by the University of California Press and the Autry National Center, is available for purchase at the museum store, and at local and online booksellers.
In addition to the rich artistic qualities of every one of the pieces in the show, the exhibition lends itself to rich discussions of California, National Park, and environmental history; tourism and railroad history; the human impact on and alteration of landscapes; ecology, biology, anthropology, and geology. Finally, the exhibition provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss the NMA’s collections and focus areas, as well as the Center for Art + Environment initiative.
The “Yosemite: Art of an American Icon” exhibition was organized by the Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West and Amy Scott. Most recently the work was exhibited at the Oakland Museum of California; before that, its premiere exhibition occurred at the Autry National Center. After the show closes at NMA, the exhibition will be shown one last time at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Curator’s Statement
…myth and history are powerful, interwoven forces in the creation of the American West […and this exhibition helps] to reveal a much more profound understanding of the West as a place both real and invented, a place of historic consequence and contemporary distinction, a place full of diversity and situated within a unique environment…no landscape is more central to our obsession in the West with mythic places and historic destinations than Yosemite National Park. What began as a relatively straightforward concept— to assemble a major exhibition on this landscape
of artistic and historic consequence—soon evolved into a far reaching effort to reveal the ways that artists have shaped Yosemite’s cultural image and attendant value….
You’ll find the exhibition installed in the Feature Gallery East and Feature Gallery South on the third floor, where you’ll see that the interior architecture of the gallery space has been altered to help facilitate the movement of people through the exhibition.
The exhibition is more or less chronological and organized into three broad categories—“Nature’s Cathedral,” “The People’s Playground,” and “Renewal,”—and it begins in the Feature Gallery East. Moving through the Feature Gallery East and then out through the new opening in the gallery wall, you’ll come to the Maurice Braun painting Yosemite Falls from the Valley (1918), where you should move to the right through the California Impressionism and Ansel Adams/Modernism sections. The remainder of the exhibition is still roughly chronological, but also organized thematically into the following areas: “Presence,” “Rocks,” “Water,” “Time,” and “Renewal”—these sections are somewhat looser, and require no commitment to a particular order or sequence.
The exhibition then concludes at the new wall near the elevator, where the kiosk and information about stereoscopic photography is located.
Relevant Vocabulary
Mammoth Plate is an oversize glass plate used to make a negative image in nineteenth-century photography
Albumen Print is a photographic print made on paper coated with albumen (egg white)
Ambrotype is a mid-nineteenth-century photographic type in which a positive image was recorded on collodion
wet plate.
Daguerreotype is an early photographic type in which an image is recorded on highly polished piece of metal coated with a light sensitive emulsion. Daguerreotypes
were one-of-a-kind images that could not be reproduced.
Wet Collodion is a nineteenth-century photographic type in which a piece of plate glass was coated with a silver halide emulsion and placed in a camera while still wet. A latent image was recorded, and then the wet plate was developed, fixed, and varnished to create a glass negative for production of stereograph and mammoth plate photographs.
Platinum Palladium Print is a kind of fine art photographic printing technique(see “Salt Dreams” blueprint for a detailed description).
Silver Gelatin Print is the most common form of twentieth-century black-and-white photographic print, in which a piece of paper is coated with a light-sensitive silver gelatin emulsion.
Stereograph is a popular nineteenth-century photograph in which two small, side-by-side images made using a special twin lens camera create the illusion of a three dimensional scene.
Sublime is a historical philosophical, literary, and art idea that contributed to Romanticism the notion of a greatness with which nothing else can be compared and which is beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation. This greatness is often used when referring to nature and its vastness.
Romanticism is an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated around the middle of the 18th century in Western Europe, during the Industrial
Revolution. It was partly a revolt against aristocratic, social, and political norms of the Enlightenment period and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature in art and literature.
Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement by a group of landscape painters, whose aesthetic vision was influenced by romanticism.
Pictorialism is an early twentieth-century photography
movement that was in vogue from around 1885 following the widespread introduction of the dry-plate process. It reached its height in the early years of the 20th century, and declined rapidly after 1914 after the widespread emergence of Modernism.
Pictorialism largely subscribed to the idea that art photography needed to emulate the painting and etching of the time.
Impressionism was a 19th century art movement that began as a loose association of Paris-based artists, who began exhibiting their art publicly in the 1860s. The name of the movement is derived from the title of a Claude Monet work, Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant), which provoked the critic Louis Leroy to coin the term in a satiric review published in Le Charivari
Modernism describes a series of reforming cultural movements in art and architecture, music, literature and the applied arts that emerged in the three decades
before 1914.
Manifest Destiny was a phrase that expressed the belief that the United States was destined to expand from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean; it has also been used to advocate for or justify other territorial acquisitions.
Nationalism is a term that refers to a doctrine or political movement that holds that a nation—usually defined in terms of ethnicity or culture—has the right to constitute an independent or autonomous political community based on a shared history and common destiny.
Conceptual art is art in which the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns.
Tour Framework—Introduction
Ask guests if they have ever been to Yosemite National Park, O’Shaughnessy Dam, Tuolumne Meadows, or the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees near Wawona, and about their experiences in and around the park.
Ask guests why they are interested in seeing the Yosemite exhibition—a good opportunity to explain that part of the purpose of the exhibition is to illustrate and document the many ways that Yosemite has been framed for viewing by so many different artists, many of whom have had a profound impact on the visual memory of Americans—e.g., Ansel Adams, Carleton Watkins, Thomas Hill, Albert Bierstadt, and Eadweard Muybridge.
Ask guests what images of Yosemite are prominent in their memories—is it perhaps either the Ansel Adams image of Clearing Winter Storm or Monolith: Half Dome? Or perhaps one of the great nineteenth-century paintings have created a sense of what the person expected to see the first time s/he visited Yosemite?
Thank guests for visiting, and explain that the exhibition is on loan to the NMA from the Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West in Los Angeles.
Explain to guests the basic layout of the exhibition, and that you plan to show them a variety of work in the exhibition, but that there isn’t time to see everything, so that you’ll be focusing on some specific pieces in your tour. Welcome guests to spend some time afterwards looking at things they you’re unable to get to in the tour. Or—welcome them to come back, maybe even several times!
Nature’s Cathedral
This first section of the exhibition contains the major portion of the historically significant (and famed) artwork in the show, including works by Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, Carleton Watkins, William Keith, and Eadweard Muybridge. The focusing ideas in this section of the exhibition have to do with nineteenth-century westward expansion, manifest destiny, romanticism, nationalism, the transcendentalist promise of spiritual renewal in nature, and the rise of the national park system idea.
Explain to guests that the first Euro-Americans to see the Yosemite region were probably part of the Walker party in 1833, but the first official entrants were part of the Mariposa Battalion, who, in 1851, were sent to forcibly remove the Indian inhabitants of Yosemite after the discovery of gold on John C. Frémont’s ranch in the Mariposa/Bear Valley area of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Shortly thereafter, in 1855, publisher James Mason Hutchings entered Yosemite with a party of men, including Thomas A. Ayres, who created the first drawing of Yosemite Falls ever made. Following this early drawing, such painters as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, and William Keith created grand, romantic, often very large landscape scenes of Yosemite—often rich in artistic metaphors about the American West generally (and Yosemite in particular). Yosemite was at one and the same time a new Eden, a source of nationalist pride in the New World for a young, and Civil War-embattled United States, and visual evidence of the rightness of Manifest Destiny.
As Kate Nearpass Ogden writes, “The romantic vision of Yosemite—timeless, simultaneously wild and pastoral, relatively unpeopled, suggestive of divine endorsement of American progress—became itself a historical force, shaping the valley’s development as a park, tourist destination, artistic subject, and icon of American wilderness generally” (24).
Thomas Ayres, The Yo-Hamite Falls, 1855
Explain that this lithograph is the first published image of Yosemite ever made.
James Mason Hutchings, a publisher and early Yosemite entrepreneur, commissioned Ayres to create the drawing used as the basis of lithograph, and he eventually used the image to promote Yosemite as destination for tourists through its publication in his magazine, Hutchings’ California Magazine.
Ask guests how many “sections” are visible in the Yosemite Falls image.
Explain that the distinctive three-tiered shape of the falls became, for nineteenth-century romantics like Bierstadt, Hill, and others, a powerful visual symbol that carried with it the symbolism of Christianity and manifest destiny.
Albert Bierstadt, Yosemite Valley, 1868
Ask guests what kind of feelings are conveyed by the Bierstadt’s representation of Yosemite Valley. Is the image tranquil or active? Warm or cold? Grand or ordinary? Frightful or happy? Peaceful or volatile? Is it a painting of a place that seems “new” or “old”? Why?
Explain that romantic paintings, such as this one by Bierstadt, were popular in the nineteenth century, particularly among the wealthy elite, for the artistic metaphors places like Yosemite could yield: the natural geology of Yosemite suggests Gothic cathedrals, making Yosemite a place of religious sanctity, and a place of far older importance than the cathedrals
of Europe. At the same time, the setting sunlight suggests a new golden era, notably to the west, with the promise of the future, and the ordained-by-God justification for American expansion—the basis of Manifest Destiny.
Enoch Wood Perry, Cathedral Rock, Yosemite Valley, 1866
Ask guests to reflect on the significance of the rock’s name, in light of ideas about manifest destiny and westward American expansion.
Ask guests to look closely at Perry’s painting.
Ask guests what “tricks,” tools, or techniques the artist uses to convey a sense of depth in the painting.
Hints: big shapes appear closer, smaller shapes appear more distant; subjects that appear closer are clearer and more detailed (the trees and water), while mountains in the distance appear hazier (such as the dome in the distant right, behind Cathedral Rock); the curving line of the waterfront leads the eye from the bottom edge of the painting back and to the right.
Can anyone see a deer running from a hunter? Where?
Virgil Williams, Along the Mariposa Trail, 1863
Explain that this artist, Virgil Williams, was a companion of both Bierstadt and Perry, the artists of the paintings on the wall to the left. All three traveled to Yosemite together, along with the writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow and geologist/metallurgist John Huston, in the summer of 1863.
Ask guests if they see any evidence in the painting that the figures represented in the lower right might be artists or writers. Any evidence that one of them is a scientist? Hints: the standing bearded figure holds an art portfolio or sketch pad, and the figure seated on the downed tree holds a chunk of rock and a hammer in his hands. Ask guests if anyone can see evidence that the men hunted for animals on their trip.
Antoine Claveau, Yosemite Falls, 1858
Explain that this painting may be the first painting ever made of Yosemite.
Ask guests to compare the feeling created by the painting to Bierstadt’s Yosemite Valley. Is this painting tranquil and serene or volatile and menacing? How can you tell?
Ask guests who they think the figures in the painting might be? Are they members of the military? Politicians? Why or why not? Are they explorers or adventurers? Why or why not? What about tourists?
Explain that this painting, in addition to being thought the first painting of Yosemite ever made, also depicts tourists in Yosemite—an important element for the rise of the park system idea, and for the support of such artists as Bierstadt, Watkins, and others.
William Keith, Yosemite Valley, 1875
Hetch Hetchy, 1907-1910
Glacier Rock, 1869
Ask guests to compare the three paintings by William Keith, and see what kinds of words they use to describe the three different paintings.
Ask guests if they see evidence in the paintings of the artist’s style changing over time.
Explain that Keith took two trips to Europe, each bracketed by visits to the eastern United States, that had particularly strong effects on his artistic development. In 1869, 3 years after he first began exhibiting and selling paintings (and the same year as Glacier Rock, Yosemite was painted), he left San Francisco for visits to New York and Paris, and art study in Dusseldorf, Germany. By the time he returned to San Francisco in 1872 his painting style had changed considerably. The abundance of foreground detail typical of early works like Glacier Rock, Yosemite (1869) had been replaced by looser, sketchier brushstrokes as in Yosemite Valley (1875). Keith subscribed to the art critic and theorist John Ruskin’s ideas that art must be a faithful rendering of nature, but he became increasingly enthusiastic about a more "suggestive" approach to capturing the natural world on canvas. His European experience had consisted more of looking at art, talking with artists and painting on his own than of a formal art education. Keith's landscapes after 1885 generally became even looser in brushwork as well as moodier in effect as in Hetch Hetchy (1907-1910).
Explain that Keith first visited Yosemite in 1866, and that the earliest of the paintings by Keith were in the mold of the Hudson River School, in ways similar to Bierstadt and Thomas Hill.
Explain that Keith was also the artist most closely associated with John Muir, the writer and Yosemite devotee, who called Keith a “poet painter.”
Explain that in 1875, a few years after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, and the same year as Keith’s painting “Yosemite Valley,” Muir had complained about the “avalanche of tourists” coming to Yosemite.
Ask guests if they can see evidence of tourists in the painting.
Thomas Hill, Yosemite Valley (From Below Sentinel Dome, as Seen from Artist’s Point), 1876
Like many artists of his era, including William Keith nearby, Thomas Hill was influenced by the Hudson River School, and valued the practice of painting en plein-air. He created thousands of oil sketches in his lifetime, which are the basis of his larger, more famous works like Yosemite Valley,…
Hill moved to California in 1861, and from then on scenes of the California landscape, including Napa Valley, the Russian River, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite Valley make up the majority of his work. During his lifetime, Hill’s paintings were a huge success, and many of San Francisco’s millionaires of the period were his patrons, including business and railroad tycoons E.B. Crocker, William Ralston, William Sharon, D.O. Mills and Leland Stanford.
Explain that, unlike Bierstadt, Hill and William Keith were both based in California, where their fame grew rapidly. With improved access to Yosemite generating a larger tourist audience for his work, Hill’s reputation for painting Yosemite landscapes far outlasted his predecessors’.
Explain that Hill, along with Virgil Williams and Carleton Watkins, were consulted by the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead on aesthetic aspects of landscape management in Yosemite, when Olmstead was writing his 1865 “Preliminary Report.”
Explain that Hill is most well known for his monumental
landscapes, like Yosemite Valley,…, which was initially purchased by Leland Stanford, the former governor of California. By the 1880s, however, tourism in Yosemite was strong enough that Hill made the majority of his living selling smaller paintings to the park’s visitors.
William Hahn, Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point, 1874
Remind guests that tourists have been featured in images of Yosemite they’ve already seen, but those figures have often offered only a narrative component to the paintings’ greater attention to the overwhelming scenery of Yosemite.
Explain that William Hahn’s painting of 1874 is the first to take tourism in Yosemite and the “emerging interest in Yosemite as a leisure destination” as a primary subject.
Ask guests how the painting portrays tourism in Yosemite.
Explain to guests that in 1872, just two years before the painting was made, the first horse trail to Glacier Point was opened.
Ask guests if the figures look as if they’re more ready for a leisurely outing or an adventure. Why?
Explain that “the inclusion of not only tourists, but also their trash makes Hahn’s [painting] the first Yosemite image to comment on the environmental implications of increasing visitation” (50).
Yosemite on Glass
The photographs in the “Yosemite on Glass” section are representative of the three most significant of Yosemite’s nineteenth-century photographers—Charles Leander Weed, Carleton E. Watkins, and Eadweard J. Muybridge—all of whom created photographs of Yosemite from glass negatives, using the wet plate collodion process, and printing them on paper using the albumen process. All three men were famed for their mammoth plates, unusually large, plate glass negatives designed to capture the large sweeping vistas of Yosemite (and other western sites). However, all three men also created numerous stereographs or stereoviews. These much smaller, side-by-side images were popular for armchair travelers after their invention in the 1840s, and they were comparatively inexpensive, which made them an increasingly popular tourist souvenir commemorating a visit to a wondrous place like Yosemite.
Charles Leander Weed, First View of the Falls, 1859, stereograph
The Yosemite Fall, 2634 Feet High, 1864, mammoth plate albumen print
Publisher and entrepreneur James Mason Hutchings made another visit to Yosemite in June, 1859, this time with photographer Charles Weed, rather than a painter or drawer, as he had in 1855 with Thomas Ayres. This was in part because Ayres’ drawings and lithographs, which had been published in Hutchings’ California Magazine in 1855, were deemed by readers to be fanciful—and Hutchings needed to prove that Yosemite Falls were indeed as dramatic as they had been earlier represented.
Explain that Weed took the first photograph of Yosemite in 1859, an imperial-sized (10x14-inch) salt print of Yosemite Falls. During this first visit, he made twenty imperial prints, and forty stereograph views of Yosemite, beginning what would become a game of one-upsmanship between the Yosemite photographers. Later, in 1864, Weed returned with a camera capable of holding 17x22-inch mammoth plates. Gold-toned albumen prints, a new technology that hadn’t been available in 1859, were made of these later negatives, which were richer and clearer than the earlier imperial salt prints.
Carleton E. Watkins
The four prints by Watkins included in the exhibition are all mammoth plate albumen prints from 1861-1865. He made his first visit to Yosemite in 1861, two years after Weed’s first visit, and three years before Weed’s second visit. This enabled him to make a name for himself as a Yosemite photographer, as his 18x22-inch mammoth plate images were very well received by the public, and by scientists such as Josiah D. Whitney, William Henry Brewer, and Clarence King. In a game of one-upsmanship, Charles Weed returned to the valley in 1864, and Watkins returned in 1865 with an even bigger camera with a higher quality lens.
Explain that the wet plate collodion process was an extraordinarily labor intensive photographic process. The artist would have to work quickly. First he had to clean a sheet of plate glass perfectly, removing any dust, lint, streaks, and so forth. Second, in the darkness of a tent, he coated the plate in a viscous, light-sensitive mixture of chemicals called collodion. Third, while the plate was still wet with collodion, the photographer would place the plate in a light-proof plate holder, slip it into the enormous cabinet of the large-format view camera, and remove a lens cap or board from the front of the lens or the front of the plate holder (he would have already trained and focused his lens on his subject), and make an exposure of a few seconds. The lens cap or board would be replaced, and the still-wet plate taken back to the dark tent, and developed, fixed, and varnished using a number of different chemical solutions.
Eadweard J. Muybridge
The three prints by Muybridge included in the exhibition are, like Watkins’, all mammoth plate albumen prints. The prints were made from the glass negatives (the negative-making process is described above) and then printed on albumen-coated paper. Photographic chemicals, namely silver salts, had to be bound to paper using albumen, or egg whites. The albumen printing process included the following steps: first, a piece of paper is coated with an emulsion of egg white (albumen) and table salt (sodium chloride), then dried. The albumen seals the paper and creates a slightly glossy surface. Second, the paper is dipped in a solution of silver nitrate and water which renders the surface light-sensitive. Third, the paper is dried in total darkness. Fourth, the dried, prepared paper is placed in a frame in direct contact under a negative, often a glass negative with collodion emulsion, and exposed to light until the image achieves the desired level of darkness. Fifth, a bath of sodium thiosulfate fixes the print’s exposure, preventing further darkening. Finally, optional gold or selenium toning improves the photograph’s
tone and stabilizes it against fading (e.g. the Weed photograph from 1864).
Explain to guests that all three of Yosemite’s nineteenth- century photographers created both mammoth plate photographs and smaller stereoviews. Like their painter counterparts, the photographers sold their mammoth plate prints to discerning collectors, often wealthy patrons including the likes of Leland Stanford, and their smaller stereoviews to tourists and armchair travelers elsewhere in the country.
Explain to guests that Muybridge’s images were differentiated from Watkins’ images by their frequently more unusual viewpoints, including from the top of the dried up Yosemite Falls.
Ask guests why people today get upset about photographs that might be “doctored” or “photoshopped.”
Ask guests to look closely at the Muybridge photograph, “Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point,” to see if they notice anything unusual about its appearance.
Explain that one of Muybridge’s tactics was to paint clouds directly on his negatives, or make separate negatives of clouds and then superimpose them on the landscape images to create a more dramatic, often more “painterly” approach in his photography—a direct manipulation of images not at all dissimilar from today’s “doctoring.”
Photography’s Workshop & California Impressions
After 1890, and with the official inclusion of Yosemite in the National Park System, more and more people came to Yosemite. Better roads made access by car possible; cheaper, lighter photography equipment made photography widely available; and the tourist trade in photography boomed.
Photographs by George Fiske, Herbert Gleason, William Dassonville, Anne Brigman, and Alfred Langdon Coburn; later images by Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and Edward Weston; and contemporary works by Bruce Davidson, Rondall Partridge, Ted Orland, Richard Misrach, John Divola, and Mark Klett lend themselves to a discussion of the twentieth century as the “photographic century.” The development of new technologies, especially gelatin silver, platinum, and digital printing ushered in multiple new versions of fine art photography.
Explain that the turn-of-the-century, neo-romantic movement of pictorialist photography yielded an entirely different kind of photography in Yosemite: soft focus, highly tonalist images were created to offer an alternative viewpoint from documentary-style photographs and the onslaught of snapshots made by less-than-discerning tourists. Pictorialist photographers such as Gleason, Brigman, and Dassonville “sought to infuse their images with spiritual and emotional meaning” (121). These photographers created images that were less about the place Yosemite than they were about the feelings and moods that could be evoked.
Ask guests to study one of the pictorialist photos (the Dassonville “Twilight, Yosemite Valley” and Coburn “California, Yosemite Falls” photographs are good places to start) and to comment on the moods or feelings evoked by the images.
Ask guests how theses moods and feelings compare to those evoked by the more documentary-style photographs of Weed, Watkins, and Muybridge.
Maurice Braun, Yosemite Falls from the Valley, 1918
Maurice Braun, Yosemite Evening from Glacier Point, 1918
Colin Campbell Cooper, Yosemite in Winter, 1916
Henry Sugimoto, Mirror Lake, Yosemite, 1930
Gunnar Widforss, Yosemite Valley, n.d.
These five paintings will yield a fruitful discussion of the staying power of impressionist styles of painting in California long after their popularity had waned in Europe.
Ask guests to consider what kinds of impressions of Yosemite are conveyed by the several different paintings.
Explain that Sugimoto was a Japanese immigrant artist, like the nearby Chiura Obata, who painted in a style influence by Cézanne and Van Gogh. He was interned in a relocation camp in Arkansas from 1942-1945.
Explain that Cooper made just one trip to Yosemite in 1916, despite the fact that he lived in Santa Barbara. Architecture and gardens were his most common subjects.
Ask guests if they can identify elements of Cooper’s architectural or garden interests in this, his one known painting of Yosemite.
Ask guests to compare the pictorialist photographs with those of Adams and Weston. In what ways are Adams’ and Weston’s photographs different from the pictorialist photographs.
Explain that Adams was originally influenced by romantic pictorialism, but that with Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, he experienced a breakthrough in his art. In preparing to make the photograph, Adams had a moment of clarity in which he envisioned the photograph he wished to take. He later called this epiphany his first “visualization,” where he realized that he could translate his feelings and thoughts to the finished print.
Explain that Adams worked with photographer Edward Weston, and that they and others founded F/64, a group of photographers who rejected the neo-romantic precepts of pictorialist photography.
Explain that F/64 refers to the smallest aperture opening on a view camera lens, the same aperture used to create the sharpest, clearest images with the greatest depth of field.
Ask guests to compare Weston’s and Adam’s photographs. In what ways are they similar? Different?
Ask guests to look closely at Chiura Obata’s sumi ink and watercolor paintings Snow, Merced River, New Moon, Eagle Peak, and Half Dome.
Explain that Obata spent six weeks in the summer of 1927 creating sumi ink and watercolor sketches that became the basis for a series of 35 woodblock prints called the “World Landscape Series.” Like Henry Sugimoto, who was interned in one of the relocation camps in Arizona, Obata was interned in Topaz, Utah, during WWII.
Revisiting Yosemite
Contemporary artists have responded to Yosemite’s multifaceted landscape in many ways. Though their work varies in style, several prominent themes have emerged since the 1970s that explore both the natural and artificial sides of the park. These include the ubiquitous presence of visitors, especially in the valley; the passage of time; Yosemite’s signature phenomena of rocks and water; and the notion that art can renew our interest in Yosemite and the park experience.
Bruce Davidson, Campground No. 4, Yosemite National Park,”1966, gelatin silver print
Ted Orland, One and a Half Domes, Yosemite, 1975, hand colored gelatin silver print
Roger Minick, Woman at Inspiration Point, Yosemite National Park, 1980, dye coupler photograph
Explain that these photographers, and others such as David Mussina, John Divola, Thomas Struth, and Brian Grogan, take different viewpoints from those photographers who preceded them.
Ask guests what kinds of messages are conveyed about Yosemite as a place, or about people’s experiences in Yosemite, by a photograph such as Struth’s “El Capitan.”
Explain that Struth has become an important photographer
because of his work examining people’s experiences in public places such as parks and museums.
Ask guests what kinds of responses that they have to Roger Minick’s photograph, “Woman at Inspiration Point.”
Encourage guests to look closely at Richard Savini’s
series of drawings of Half Dome, Sunrise, Early Morning, Mid-Morning, and Late Morning.
Ask guests how the drawings are different from one another. How do the shadows change between the different times of the morning?
Ask guests to consider the messages of Richard Misrach’s photograph Burnt Forest and Half Dome, Yosemite, and compare them to those of Wanda Hammerbeck’s.
Consider the Kristina Faragher media installation entitled Gaping Mouth.
Explain that “gaping mouth” is the meaning of the word given to the valley by its original residents.
Explain that the video installation contains 6-7 minutes of images of O’Shaughnessy Dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley, as well as images of El Capitan reflected
in the water, recalling the subjects of Carleton Watkins’ photographs.
Marina Moevs’s River”depicts a cabin on the river, overflowed and destroyed by the 1997 flooding of the rivers in Yosemite.
Ask guests how the painting’s warning about the destructive potential of the natural world compares to messages conveyed by its nineteenth-century predecessors’ such as Albert Bierstadt’s and Thomas Hill’s work?
Take a few moments to study Above Lake Tenaya, Connecting Views from Edward Weston to Eadweard Muybridge, by Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe.
Explain that Klett is well known for his work rephotographing
sites in the American west, and that in this image, he brackets a number of images in a panorama. On the left is the 1937 Edward Weston image Juniper, Tenaya Lake, Sierra Nevada; and on the right, a historic photograph by Eadweard Muybridge. In between is a collage of Klett’s and Wolfe’s own photographs in contemporary times. What the photograph illustrates is that Eadweard Muybridge and Edward Weston stood within 150 feet of each other to frame their own individual photographs taken 70 years apart.
What distinguishes the contemporary art of Yosemite from its nineteenth-century prcedent [is] recognition of an animated, constantly changing landscape--natural and man-made--as well as our own power to affect that change. Where nineteenth-century artists saw a place of grand, static geology, contemporary artists see flux, both good and bad, with our own presence often as the driving force. In contemporary art we do not see Yosemite from afar but are brought into diret contact with the place and asked to face our role within it.