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LACMA Recreates Landmark 1975 Exhibition "New Topographics"
Robert Adams (United States, b. 1937), Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973. Gelatin silver print, 8 X 10 in. George Eastman House collections. ©Robert Adams, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.
LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents "New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape", a re-examination of the landmark exhibition originally held in 1975 at the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, which brought together ten leading photographers: Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel Jr. New Topographics signaled the emergence of a new approach to describing man’s relationship to the landscape, ultimately giving a name to a photographic movement and style; it is considered the second most-cited photography exhibition in the history of the medium (after the "Family of Man" of 1955). LACMA’s presentation of New Topographics—the second stop on the exhibition’s major international tour—will be on view at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum from October 25, 2009 through January 3, 2010.

The 1975 exhibition has come to be understood as marking a paradigm shift. Romantic idealization of the landscape gave way to a cooler appraisal, more engaged with the everyday built environment and more attuned to the conceptual issues of the broader art field. Photographs in New Topographics emphasize aspects of the emerging, postwar American landscape: expansive parking lots detailed in Frank Gohlke’s "Landscape", Los Angeles (1974); subdevelopment tract housing documented by Robert Adams; idiosyncratic historic motels of Route 66 surveyed by John Schott’s Route 66 Motels series; and industrial parks captured in Lewis Baltz’s New Industrial Parks series.

On view at LACMA is a restaging of New Topographics with more than a hundred photographs, bringing together two-thirds of the work seen in the original Eastman House exhibition, which was curated by William Jenkins in collaboration with the artists. The presentation will be supplemented by some twenty prints and publications by related photographers—many of which will come from LACMA’s collection—to provide greater historical context. Such precursors as Timothy O’Sullivan, pioneer surveyor of the American West, as well as Walker Evans, whose influential “documentary style” was first proposed in the 1930s. The conceptual aspect of New Topographics is illuminated by the photo-based books of Ed Ruscha, a key figure in Jenkins’s catalogue essay, along with Robert Smithson’s published explorations of degraded landscapes, illustrated with his own Kodak Instamatic snapshots.

The exhibition will also feature works from the areas of academia and commerce including the influential publication Learning from Las Vegas (1972) by architects and professors Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, an ode to “the ugly and the ordinary”; Landscape Magazine, established in 1951 by J. B. Jackson, a key figure in the contemporaneous cultural geography movement; and the photographically illustrated trade journals of developers and real-estate agents, often cited as prototypes for New Topographics.

As a contemporary response to the legacy of New Topographics, LACMA has commissioned the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) to present an installation dedicated to the theme of oil’s central role in the development of the American landscape. Established in 1994 and based in Los Angeles, CLUI is an educational organization that researches and helps visualize human interaction with the physical landscape. The installation will feature two large format video projection “landscans”—unedited video recordings taken from an aerial view. One depicts the pumpjack fields of Kern County north of Los Angeles, and the other documents Texas City’s vast refineries—both addressing ongoing concerns for environmentalism and land use. The “landscan” recordings are made aerially at low altitude with gyro-stabilized cameras, shown in real time and looped.

An interactive audio tour of New Topographics at LACMA will be available via cell phone in the galleries as well as on lacma.org. Visitors can use their own phones to hear the participating photographers talk about their work, drawing on recordings from the 1970s to the present day.

The LACMA exhibition is curated by Edward Robinson, associate curator of the Wallis Annenberg Department of Photography. New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape premiered at the George Eastman House (June 13–October 4, 2009), and following LACMA’s presentation, will travel to the Center for Creative Photography, Arizona (February 19–May 16, 2010); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (July 17–October 3, 2010); Landesgalerie Linz, Austria (November 10, 2010–January 9, 2011); Photographische Sammlung Stiftung Kultur, Cologne (January 27–April 3, 2011); Nederlands Fotomuseum Rotterdam, the Netherlands (July 2–September 11, 2011); and Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, Bilbao (November 2011–January 2012).

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art | New Topographics | Robert Adams | Lewis Baltz | Edward Robinson |


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