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New Exhibition that Explores the Southwestern Desert at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts
Patrick Nagatani, F-117A Stealth Fighter, Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico, from the series Nuclear Enchantment, 1990, chromogenic print, gift of Dr. Mark Reichman, courtesy of the UMFA.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT.- The Utah Museum of Fine Arts is pleased to present Desert Secrets: Photography From the Permanent Collection, a provocative new exhibition that explores the Southwestern desert as a place of strangeness and the unknown. On view through December 13, 2009, the installation highlights the work of seven contemporary photographers who seek to reveal what is hidden in barren and seemingly uninhabited landscapes.

On view in the Museum’s upstairs LDS Galleria, the photographs in Desert Secrets examine themes of technological intrusions into the land; atomic testing; clandestine military operations; conspiracy theories; and the inherently surreal nature of the desert landscape itself.

Five large-scale photographs by acclaimed emerging artist Trevor Paglen are central to the exhibition. A photographer, writer, and self-described “experimental geographer,” Paglen has received accolades from both the art world and mainstream media for his deliberate blurring of disciplinary boundaries between art, social science, and politics. Using special equipment designed for photographing outer space, Paglen creates images of classified military sites–so called “black sites”–that are often hidden behind many miles of restricted land. His work raises challenging questions about the known and the unknown, the visible and the invisible.

The exhibition also includes a large selection of works by photographer Patrick Nagatani. A New Mexico resident, Nagatani often uses the local landscape as a stage for scenes that comment wryly on the atomic history and nuclear industry of the area. Drawing on his background in movie set design, Nagatani creates and photographs elaborate installations that combine life-size foam-board cutouts, handcrafted miniature models, paint and collage elements. The resultant images amount to a kind of theater of the absurd, questioning the frequent clash between human culture and scientific advancement.

Nagatani’s photographic series Nuclear Enchantment can be explored in its entirety in the UMFA’s new virtual exhibition, which can be accessed at Presented in conjunction with Desert Secrets, this online component features a timeline of nuclear development, a Google Maps tour of the sites depicted in Nagatani’s photographs, and short videos that illuminate the compelling history and complex techniques behind his work.

Utah Museum of Fine Arts | Trevor Paglen | Patrick Nagatani | Southwest | Google |

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