Saturday, June 15, 2019
‘Mirage’ Inspired by the American West’s Mysterious Great Basin
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Frances Ashforth, who will be among those taking part in Thursday’s panel discussion, contributed “Ana River 4,” Courtesy: Frances Ashforth.
 
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Laura McPhee turned her large-format view camera on the edge of the Black Rock Desert, where she photographed a gold mine that she called “an incision in the land.”

She photographed a still-life on the slick rock of Navajo Nation revealing signs of human presence that included machine parts, zippers, varnished tin cans and a tiny plastic toy among shards of glass. She shot off-road vehicle tracks etched into small buttes, and she captured a serpentine river that has cut deep as it meandered through the land over centuries.

McPhee, whose work is showcased at Gail Severn Gallery, called this collective work “Desert Chronicle”-- “a meditation on our material lives and the unintended consequences of humanity’s attempts to control and manage nature.”

And some of those images will be among the work featured in the Sun Valley Center for the Arts’ new exhibition “Mirage: Energy, Water and Creativity in the Great Basin,” which opens on Wednesday, June 12, and runs through Aug. 23.

The Center will host an opening exhibition for “Mirage” from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday, June 13.  Immediately following the celebration—from 6 to 7 p.m. --there will be a panel discussion about why landscape remains an important, relevant subject for artists in 21st century America.

The panel discussion will be moderated by Kristin Poole, artistic director of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. It will feature visual artist Frances Ashforth, whose landscapes are featured in “Mirage,” and two museum directors--Jim Ballinger, of the Phoenix Art Museum, and Peter Hassrick, of the Buffalo Bill Center for the West and Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

They will explore such questions as: How does the trajectory of landscape art mirror the time in which it is made?

“Over the last two centuries images of the American West in particular have helped shape our collective attitude about the land,” said Poole. “As the Center explores the vast expanse that comprises the Great Basin, we thought it would be worthwhile to consider the value, strength and relevance of landscape art today.”

The Great Basin is a vast expanse of land that includes parts of Idaho, including the Sun Valley area, as well as Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, California and nearly all of Nevada.

It is a closed watershed with its rivers draining internally, rather than spilling out in the ocean. Once an inland sea, much of it is desert today.

Its vast stretches of open, unoccupied land make it a place of mystery and obscurity, its scale allowing individuals, corporations and government agencies to do things they can’t do elsewhere from creating monumental artworks on the land to extracting natural resources and testing weapons.

“There something magical about the Great Basin—it’s a place of shimmering landscapes where it’s often difficult to be sure that what you think you see is real,” said Dr. Courtney Gilbert, curator of Visual Arts at The Center. “Its vastness offers a kind of secrecy, and its open spaces offer up possibilities and inspire experimentation.”

In addition to McPhee, the artists included in “Mirage” include:

  • Fazal Sheikh, who has collaborated with writer Terry Tempest Williams on a work she calls “Exposure.” The work emerged following the recent decision to significantly reduce two national monuments in Utah: The Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bear Ears.
  • Emmet Gowin, who has made aerial photographs that illuminate the human impact on the landscape. Some of his photographs record the scarred and cratered landscapes of the Nevada Test Site, where more than 900 nuclear tests were conducted over more than four decades.
  • Cedra Wood, who was commissioned by The Center to travel through the Great Basin and respond to it with paintings that investigate ecological concepts of belonging and survival through hyper-realistic imagery often incorporating fantasy.
  • Frances Ashforth, who created works of abstracted landscapes, including monotypes made at the Ana River/Summer Lake area of Oregon and the Bear River/Antelope Island in Utah.
  • Andrea Zittel, a founder of High Desert Test Sites near Joshua Tree in California. She contributed a large-scale painting paired with one of her “Wall Sprawl” works—that is, wallpaper generated form aerial photographs of urban, industrial and military development.
  • Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson, who created prints of “Sun Tunnels” and Spiral Jetty,” in addition to films.

The exhibition will travel to the Boise Art Museum in 2020.

UPCOMING EVENTS ASSOCIATED WITH THE EXHIBITION:

Friday, June 14-July 29. Gail Severn Gallery presents an exhibition by internationally known painter Tony Foster titled “Tony Foster Watercolour Diaries: Great Basin and Copper Basin.  Opening celebration takes place from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 14, with an artist chat with Foster at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 6.

Thursday, June 27, 5:30 p.m. Free evening exhibition tour.

Friday, June 5, 5-7 p.m. Free Gallery Walk.

Tuesday, July 9, 6 p.m. Free panel discussion titled “Photographing the Great Basin.”

Friday, Aug. 2, 5-7 p.m. Free Gallery Walk

Thursday, Aug. 15, 5:30 p.m. Free evening exhibition tour.

 

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