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Future Tense: Reshaping the Landscape at the Neuberger Museum of Art
Michael Hayden, Clean Up, 2007, oil and acrylic on panel. The Progressive Corporation, Cleveland, OH.

PURCHASE, NY.- They experience the post 9-11 world and it makes them tense. Their work is fraught with conflict and is categorically un-Romantic. “They” are the sixty or more artists, featured in Future Tense: Reshaping the Landscape, on view at the Neuberger Museum of Art | Purchase College through July 6, 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.

“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 Castellanos is 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.

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.

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June 2, 2008

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