‘Altered Landscapes’ at the Nevada Museum of Art


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‘Anthropocene’ is a buzzword that’s been bandied about lately by politicians and scientists like some sort of smart weapon. The term describes a new geological era marking of the effect of humanity on the ecosystem and is just one part of the mission of the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno.

The exhibition ‘The Altered Landscape: Photographs of a Changing Environment,’ opening Saturday (and an accompanying art book published by Skira Rizzoli: $65), explores just these effects.


‘For reasons that are both natural and man-made, we live in an era of rapidly changing landscapes,’ said Ann Wolfe, curator of exhibitions and collections.

About 150 photographs by 100 contemporary artists address the issues of how we mark, build and live upon the land. Works by well-known artists including Richard Misrach, Robert Adams and Edward Burtynsky examine issues related to water use, mining, nuclear testing and its effects.

Because the vast openness of desert terrain cannot hide its wounds as easily as a forest or cityscape, a large number of the photos are of the American West. The images, taken post-1970s to the present, are drawn from the museum’s 1,000-piece photography collection.

‘The work of the New Topographic photographers and the Dusseldorf School gave rise to a new generation of photographers who view landscapes as a suitable place for social and political inquiry,’ Wolfe said.

Photographer David Maisel’s vivid yellow and red abstract images, ‘Mirage 18 and 13,’ are natural colors created from different chemicals and minerals extracted from around the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The terminal lake is surrounded by 40 acres of industrial mining operations.

Humans now have a larger effect on the landscape than the rain. ‘We are the biggest influential force on the planet,’ said San Francisco-based aerial photographer Michael Light. ‘We are creating our own geology.’


Light’s blue-hued ‘035 Priscilla’ is one in his ‘100 Suns’ series depicting U.S. nuclear tests at or near the moment of detonation.

In stark contrast, Light’s 2006 black-and-white photographs of Barneys Canyon’s open-pit gold mine near Bingham Canyon, Utah, reveal nature’s more conventional beauty.

‘It aims to seduce, not lecture,’ said Light, who describes the canyon image as sort of a psychosexual Edward Weston.

‘The museum has been tuned in to art and the environment for decades,’ Maisel said. ‘Now is the time. The audience is ripe. People are willing to be challenged in their thinking and knowledge of the environment.’

‘Altered Landscapes’ runs through Jan. 8 — Liesl Bradner

Images: Michael Light, ‘Barneys Canyon Gold Mine Looking South, Near Bingham Canyon, UT,’ 2006. David Maisel, ‘Terminal Mirage 13, (Ed. 4/5),’ 2003. Peter de Lory, ‘Tangled Deer, Utah,’ 1991. Credit: Collection of the Nevada Museum of Art, ‘The Altered Landscape,’ Carol Franc Buck Collection.