Joslyn exhibit sheds new light on American West

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September 21st, 2011

Omaha, NE – The familiar rose-pink sunsets and majestic, sweeping mountain ranges are some of the iconic images of the American west. But the new American Landscape exhibit at the Joslyn Art Museum shows a different picture.

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“I think we all have an image in our head of what a landscape photograph is supposed to look like,” said Toby Jurovics, chief curator at the Joslyn, as he walked through the halls of the museum’s latest exhibit. “I usually joke, you know, you put the clouds at the top, and the mountain in the middle and make sure the river’s on the bottom.”

William Wylie's Looking North, near Udall Natural Area, 1996 is featured in the Joslyn's American Landscapes exhibit. (Photo courtesy Joslyn)

Jurovics said those iconic images were popularized by artists like Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter, and were successful in promoting an environmental consciousness in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. But the images, he said, have become somewhat outdated.

“Artists in the 1970s and 1980s began to look around and realize that most of the landscape doesn’t look like a national park,” he said. “If you look at a map of the continental U.S., about two percent of that is preserved as wilderness. So I think what the artists in this exhibition are trying to do is (answer the question) how do we address that other 98 percent of the landscape, and what are the other issues that are interesting or worthy of looking at?”

Jurovics said the works he chose for this exhibit, which are gathered from 14 contemporary photographers, incorporate the human presence and the influence of the “built environment.” And, he said, the artists portray that environment with the same amount of “reverence or elegance” as they would the untouched landscape. He pointed to photographer Martin Stupich as an example, whose work documents water projects across the west.

Martin Stupich's Theodore Roosevelt Dam, Salt River, Arizona, 1988. (Photo courtesy Joslyn)

In Stupich’s print, Theodore Roosevelt Dam, Salt River, Arizona, Jurovics said “He deals with them with the same degree of drama that he might deal with the profile of a mountain range, instead you have this dam arching its way across the horizon.”

“One of the things that Marty has always tried to suggest,” he said, “is that… you have to be able to love the built environment as much as you love the natural environment, in order to come to terms with the place we live and the challenges that we face.”

American Landscape: Contemporary Photographs of the West is on display at the Joslyn Art Museum through January.

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