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Richard Misrach: The American Desert

October 24, 1987–January 3, 1988

Richard Misrach (born 1949), one of the bright talents of the new generation of color photographs in the United States, has been "chasing the light" in western deserts since 1982, recording fires and flooded landscapes, the land of the space shuttle, roads, train tracks, and other aspects of wilderness imprinted with the signs and artifacts of human habitation. Most desert photographers have chosen to present the drama of the Mojave, Death Valley, and Monument Valley, or the awesome majesty of the Grand Canyon. Misrach has instead embraced an area relegated to the status of wasteland, on the road to somewhere else. There is an unease about his images, a palpable sense that things are out of balance. Yet his large-scale photographs capture the incredible beauty of the vast spaces, varying terrain, atmospheric effects of light, and rich, subtle hues found in the Colorado Desert and Coachella Valley in the southernmost part of California. "The desert, which once was a symbol of the deserted place, the empty and inhospitable place, is much changed," the artist has said. "But the basic feeling that the desert is a primitive place still haunts the area. There is civilization, but it seems thin and fragile. There is a lurking sense that even now all the man-made things could go, and then the desert would reclaim its place." Misrach organizes his photographs into groups which he calls "cantos" (songs). Among the cantos, which indicate the extraordinary thoroughness with which the artist has considered his subject, are: The Highway, Light and Color, Scale, Survival, The Flood, The Fires, The Event, The Inhabitants, The Visitors, and The Terrain. Seen together, this portrait of a particular landscape seems to ask the viewer to accept the world as it exists, and to delight in the awesome beauty beyond man's transitory incursions.


Oakland Museum of California


Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, CA
Oakland Museum of California
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Sierra Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NE
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California
Milwaukee Art Museum
Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio

Main Building


National Endowment for the Arts
Pew Memorial Trust


Therese Heyman
Martha Chahroudi

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