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Future Tense: Reshaping the Landscape

May 11 - July 20, 2008


They experience the post 9-11 world and it makes them tense -- tense about the forecast for the future of our environment. Their work considers the landscapes of today and the future, as those of globalization, isolation, and at times, hope. "They" are the sixty or more artists, featured in Future Tense: Reshaping the Landscape, on view at the Neuberger Museum of Art / Purchase College from May 11 through July 20, 2008, who are taking a critical look at issues raised by the state of the environment. The future they see is rife with pollution, poor air quality, the deleterious effects of climate change, and man-made disasters. The tension they feel is reflected in their paintings, photography and sculpture -- much of which was recently created and will be on view for the first time. (right: Bradley Castellanos, American, b. 1974, East into Brooklyn, 2006, 74 x 61 inches. Lent by Caren Golden, New York )

"Current global realities and environmental changes, caused by a constellation of factors concern these artists, are conveyed in images that range from depictions of true-life events to fictional narrative and biting satire," notes Dede Young, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Neuberger Museum of Art, who curated the show. "While some artists question the past, some forecast the future, indicating solutions for alternative, potentially sustainable conditions for human life."

She notes that many of the younger, emerging artists in the show take positions ranging from cautious hope to utter disenchantment. "Their imagery presents sobering information from current events and expresses complex political and social dimensions of landscape, architecture, science and technologies.  There is an undertone indicating a moral imperative," she says.

For example, Sarah Trigg's paintings are directly inspired by news stories and headlines she reads online from sites around the world.  Her Lake Vostok with Two Olympias (2007), refers to a report on drilling into a sub-glacial lake in Antarctica that had been sealed off from the world for close to a million years, which she conflates with imagery from headlines in other time zones. Trigg comments, "Today, mostly what we see of the Earth's surface on a daily basis, and what we process subconsciously, is in the form of digitized imagery, not what we see in its true physical form. By pulling this disparate imagery of the Earth into one view, the paintings project the spiritual and physical tensions between technologized culture and the natural landscape."

Bradley Castellanosis gripped by the mounds of trash, polluted lots, and deserted docks of New York City and Brooklyn. His post-apocalyptic landscapes are created through a process of mounting large-scale, computer-manipulated images on board, which are then covered in resin as shiny as an oil slick. "In a language colored with cynicism and sarcasm, I create a dialogue about the contemporary world, where human desires are obtained through force and man-made objects disturb the natural order of life," he says. "These elements come together to address the driving forces behind our culture war, and sex, greed and lust." His urban landscapes may reek of contamination and decay, yet glimmers of beauty do peak through the wreckage. (left: Michael Hayden, American, born 1981, Clean Up, 2007, Oil and acrylic on panel, 35 x 80 inches. Courtesy The Progressive Corporation, Cleveland, Ohio)

Dana Melamed has always been fascinated with the development of the city from an architectural, historical, social and political point of view. "Indeed, some pieces are built out of numerous cells that grow into an organic form, which symbolize an ever-developing metropolis," she explains. The urban experience serves as a trigger and a framework for the emotional turmoil that she sets forth with her fierce and impulsive practice. Melamed uses a blowtorch to scar and shred the surface of her dense drawings. A post-human world in which fires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes or acts of human aggression are evident create a tension between calamitous episodes and the need to rewrite our structural pattern.

Swiss artist Markus Wetzel positions himself at the intersection of art and technology, using digital imaging to create multi-layered synthetic topographies.  His recurring theme is a remote location ideally suited for one -- a place of pure escapism where the larger world cannot affect the individual.  Here, Wetzel's image of an island paradise, constructed entirely by computer, utilizing a 3-D modeling program, recalls the romantic notion of the sublime: a world in which the sky is majestic, the horizon goes on forever, nature is awesome and beautiful.  The irony in this custom-constructed, allegedly controllable environment is the existential threat embodied in the form of an iceberg, equivalent in mass to the island, floating just offshore.  Is there any question that the melting iceberg of today is anything but an icon of global warming?

Yoon Lee's paintings are "the outcome and by product of my pursuits -- finding a balance in contradiction, finding harmony in chaos, finding where the con-temporary and history co-exist." She starts with a jumble of scanned images of engineering structures and the like, then adds colorful lines, fluid whorls, and abstract shapes that appear to be both organic and computer generated, hinting at a tangle of intriguing ideas -- the commotion at an airport, the speed of travel, the electrical blueprints of a power plant, the path of unknown orbits, the sudden unraveling of the world's biggest ball of string. Her powerful mix of chaos and order, along with her bold use of color, adds to the expression of a world in motion, with force lines pushing in every direction at once, stressed to the point of implosion.

Dean Byington's works on canvas that incorporate drawing, painting and silkscreen transfer imagery that cover the large, white field with a detailed matrix of flora and fauna in which surreal worlds within worlds co-exist. Microscopic, fairy-tale like colonies in the grass underfoot create a peculiar geography in which quasi-rational systems of productivity abound. The inference of human-free, self-sufficient environment is inferred, and the moral of the story is that nature may exist with or without us. (right: Sarah Trigg, American, Lake Vostok with Two Olympias, 2007, Acrylic on panel, 60 x 40 inches. Sara Nightingale Gallery, Bridgehampton)


Selected wall text from the exhibition

Future Tense: Reshaping the Landscape was conceived as an exhibition to demonstrate that the medium of painting -- historically the format of the landscape genre in art -- is adaptive enough to deal with timely issues conceptually and symbolically, and to characterize vividly ways in which we are all connected. 
The Landscape tradition, which flourished in the Nineteenth Century in Europe and in the United States, maintained a dynamic connection with contemporary philosophies and religious beliefs, and was a powerful form of communication. The narrative and allegorical power of painted imagery served the public as a vehicle for comprehension of the wider world. 
Building on that tradition, the sixty artists in Future Tense: Reshaping the Landscape employ painting, drawing, photography, and sculpture to grapple with sweeping changes in politics, society, and culture since 2001, a pivotal and historic year. 
They describe the present, a time when anxiety about the high threat level is color-coded and the catch phrases global warming, going green, and eco-friendliness are often repeated in news headlines and advertising tags. But they are concerned as well with the future, and their work reflects the vulnerability of our existence.
Drawing upon sources as varied as Dr. Seuss, Tim Burton, and Japanese computer games, the artists in this exhibition amplify the historical tradition of the Sublime and the Romantic to deal with a broad range of complex political and social themes, including architecture and technology, community and isolation, utopia and dystopia.
Quotes from artists who answered ten questions we posed about the connection between their work and politics, the environment, the landscape tradition in art, and activism appear on object labels throughout the galleries. A DVD of artists responding on camera to these questions is on view in the museum's Murray Benjamin Library, near the front entrance.
Dede Young, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and Avis Larson, Curatorial Assistant, developed Future Tense: Reshaping the Landscape as part of the Neuberger Museum of Art's balanced program and the 2008 campus theme of Purchase College -- 'environment is everything.'  


Related events

The following programs are offered in conjunction with the exhibition: 
From Trash to Treasure
Saturday, June 7, 1-4 pm
Make art with recycled and repurposed materials. Art workshops (1-4 pm), themed gallery Talks (1-3 pm), and live music provided by Purchase College Conservatory of Music students (3 pm) round out the afternoon. Workshops are for children 5-10. Free admission 
Wednesday, July 9, noon
Artist Danielle Tedeger discusses her work on view in Future Tense. Free with museum admission; free to Purchase College faculty, staff and students.

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