Art that visually and conceptually captures the frightening implications of this tumultuous political moment has been slow in coming. But with a considered, seasoned eye, Richard Misrach provides visual evidence and a means of surveying the dystopian discord that was unleashed during the 2016 presidential election. His recent body of work, photographs taken in harshly beautiful desert locations in California, Arizona, and Nevada, highlight evidence of ecological, political, and economic despair and conflict.
He does it with directness, showing us crumbling buildings, apocalyptic evidence of failed housing developments, and literal writing on the walls and geological surfaces where we see expressions of deep divides between hatred and hope. Misrach, as is his forte, captures that tension masterfully.
The weight of the material takes on a literal quality in the knockout Crossed Out Swastika, Lucerne Valley, California, 2017, a typically large, highly detailed photograph of a rocky site (the antithesis of the snow-capped Swiss burg suggested by the place name). Dramatic desert boulder outcrops are sprayed with graffiti, notably the loaded titular symbol (which appears in numerous other images in the exhibition) written by one tagger and crossed out by another. The harsh struggle in ideology is written on the earth, the saner voice winning this particular skirmish. In “Desolation,” Calipatria California, 2011, a similar dichotomy appears on an apparently abandoned stucco building, perhaps a residence, where the words ‘Love’ and ‘Desolation’ are articulated in cursive, expressing the hope and despair equation so redolent these days.
Misrach approaches the display of the works with an artful urgency. The larger prints are displayed unglazed, push-pinned into their frames, while groupings of smaller prints cling directly to the wall with magnets. Instead of a pricey catalogue, there’s a free oversized brochure. The strategy suggests that we cannot escape the heat. A key image captures the inescapable predicament scratched into an oxidizing wall – “YOU ARE HERE.”