Richard Misrach: On the Beach
Image 1 / 8: Richard Misrach. Untitled #671-04.
Image 2 / 8: Richard Misrach. Untitled #627-02.
Image 3 / 8: Richard Misrach. Untitled #1132-04.
Image 4 / 8: Richard Misrach. Untitled #696-05.
Image 5 / 8: Richard Misrach. Untitled #394-03.
Image 6 / 8: Richard Misrach: On the Beach. (installation view).
Image 7 / 8: Richard Misrach: On the Beach. (installation view).
Image 8 / 8: Richard Misrach: On the Beach. (installation view).
For more than 30 years, Richard Misrach has been producing beautiful photographs of terrible subjects, focusing on man’s often disastrous effect on the earth. His extended series Desert Cantos explores the American desert—fires and floods, military-scarred terrain, and pits of dead animals—in lush images. With a sensitive eye attuned to color and a belief in the power of aesthetics to effect change, Misrach is a pioneer in color photography and one of the most important artists working today.
Recently he has turned his camera to water, photographing beaches, the ocean, sunbathers, and swimmers from a godlike viewpoint high above. With no horizon line, the vast expanses of sand or water envelop the viewer with a strangely disorienting view. New digital technology has also made possible dramatically scaled prints, some as large as 6 × 10 feet. 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. Instead of the beauty Misrach found in the desert, these powerful pictures partake of the sublime, producing astonishment, awe, and perhaps even terror.
Although sunny and colorful, these photographs are informed by the events of September 11, 2001. They evoke a post-apocalyptic world; the title On the Beach explicitly references Nevil Shute’s Cold War novel about nuclear holocaust. In some images, individual poses reference hostages or people jumping from the World Trade Center buildings, while in others, lone figures or clinging couples appear to be the last people on the planet. This moving and powerful exhibition of more than 20 works is the first museum show of Misrach’s new series.
On the Beach premiered at the Art Institute of Chicago and the two-year tour includes Contemporary Museum, Honolulu (December 14, 2007 – March 2, 2008), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (May 25 – September 1, 2008), the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle (November 8, 2008 – February 8, 2009), and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta (May 23 – August 16, 2009)