David Maisel: Atlas at Yancey Richardson

Art Scene

David Maisel: Atlas at Yancey Richardson

As the impact of modern living on the environment comes under increasing scrutiny, work of photographers like David Maisel becomes even more relevant. Maisel’s photographs of landscapes where mining, logging, urban sprawl, military testing and numerous human interventions take place cast a deceptively alluring light on unchecked human developments in the fields of technology and industry.

The Lake Project 22, 2001. Archival pigment print. © David Maisel. Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson, New York.

In his 30-plus year career as a photographer, Maisel has created several bodies of work that hone in on specific locations: the series, Terminal Mirage, captures the periphery of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, including areas affected by industrial pollution, mineral evaporation, and munitions storage by the army; The Lake Projectinvestigates water reclamation at Owens Lake, California; The Mining Projectfocuses on open pit mines throughout the Rocky Mountains; and The Fallexamines land use in the La Mancha region of Spain.

Terminal Mirage 10, 2003. Archival pigment print. © David Maisel. Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson, New York.

In the exhibition, Atlas, at Yancey Richardson, a selection of works that span Maisel’s entire oeuvre is on view. At first glance, they may appear to be abstract paintings; more like a Mark Rothko color study than a shot of the midwestern United States. The photographs are in fact large-scale aerial photographs that use the language of formal aesthetics–color, line, perspective, composition–to expand the field of landscape photography beyond more representational or literal interpretations.

The Mining Project (Butte, MT9), 1989. Archival pigment print. © David Maisel. Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson, New York.

At a distance, Maisel’s seductive use of color in several of the 48” x 48” images is stunning. In The Mining Project (Butte, MT9),1989, swaths of interlinking shades of greens and blues, accented by textured white surfaces and three bulbous points in the top third of the image are both disorienting and mesmerizing. The work is part of The Mining Project, which is part of an interlinked set of photographic series that also includes Black Mapsand American Mine. The Mining Projectfocuses on the Berkeley Mine in Butte, Montana, and American Minefeatures open pit mines that harvest gold on the Carlin Trend in Nevada. Despite the deceptive beauty of the photographs of these two sites, poisoned water, devastating mercury emissions and toxic chemical use reveal a far deadlier story in the making of the work. Without the altering of these landscapes by industry, and perhaps greed, Maisel’s abstractions would not exist.

The Fall (Borox 9), 2014. Archival pigment print.  © David Maisel. Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson, New York.

A central component in Maisel’s work is his interest in a photographic space that lies between documentation and beauty. Abstraction and representation are synthesized into an unusual relationship that reveals the hand of humankind as a painter/sculptor whose canvas is planet earth; creating works that can only be framed by an aerial photograph.

David Maisel: Atlas at Yancey Richardson is on view through July 6, 2018.