On the occasion of New Old Pictures/New New Pictures, Richard Misrach’s sixteenth exhibition at Fraenkel Gallery, we’re showcasing the artist’s long connection with the gallery, which has presented his groundbreaking work since 1985.
Over the course of the gallery’s nearly 40-year relationship with Misrach, the artist has explored new subjects and approaches, as both a pioneer in the renaissance of large-scale color photography and an innovator in digital production. During this time, his projects have ranged from the many chapters of his ongoing Desert Cantos series to the tension of On the Beach, which presents the human figure against a looming and abstract pattern of sand and ocean waves.
Misrach began his series Golden Gate in 1997, continuing his examination of the fundamental changes which humanity exacts on nature. In photographs made from a single vantage point, Misrach recorded endless variations in the view of the Golden Gate Bridge, depicting the erratic complexity of light and weather on the iconic scene.
Misrach’s most recent series Cargo presents atmospheric studies of maritime traffic, and makes its debut in the exhibition New Old Pictures/New New Pictures. Begun in 2021 as the global shipping industry faced a critical moment, the series raises questions about international commerce and the perilousness of the world’s supply chain. Made throughout the changing seasons from a single vantage point in San Francisco, the images look south and east across the bay, carefully observing the drama of sky and water.
In Desert Canto XL – Art in the West, 1988/2020, Misrach examines the way artists work in the American desert. Among the subjects he photographed was Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, the 1973-1976 Land Art project she created in Utah’s Great Basin. Recently, Blind Spot published a collection of Misrach’s previously unseen images of the site in Blind Spot Folios 001: Nancy Holt & Richard Misrach, which pairs Misrach’s photographs with archival materials including Holt’s photo studies and writings.
Misrach also photographed James Turrell’s Roden Crater in Arizona’s Painted Desert, Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, cut into a Nevada mesa, and City, Heizer’s mile-and-a-half-long collection of abstract forms made from sand, cement, and other materials. In Misrach’s view of the site, a structure with sharp right angles casts precise shadows on the ground, in contrast with the soft shapes of clouds in the bright sky.
The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah are featured in Desert Canto XV – The Salt Flats, 1992. Among the images Misrach discovered in his archives are photographs of vehicles at the site—a 30,000 acre expanse of hard, white salt which is sometimes used for land speed racing. There, he documented a range of cars and trucks and things that go, including the world’s fastest mobile home, land yachts powered by wind and sails, a flame-painted VW van, and a modest Chrysler Newport. Pictured here, the long and low Nebulous Theorem II once held the land speed record for its class at Bonneville, traveling at 239 miles per hour.
Misrach has often focused on the signs of civilization emerging in curious and colorful ways. In contrast to the Sierra Club photographers of the 1960s, who portrayed the Western American landscape in all its untouched glory, Misrach pictures elements of human habitation and transportation in ways sometimes subtle, sometimes vivid. At the Wheel Inn Truck Stop in Southern California, the artist captures the warm glow of a sunset as a pair of dinosaur murals is re-animated by a neon green light.
In some rare instances, the horizon of the desert landscape disappears, veiled under the shadow of the night in which Misrach also works. While his long exposures of the 1980s and 90s have recorded satellites, air traffic, and military activities of the nocturnal desert sky, this newly printed photograph studies a solitary gas station. The stillness of this darkened scene is broken only by the movement of insects in the light of the lone street lamp.
While working on a digitally-photographed series of Color Reversals, Misrach captured the monumentality of a vertical rock at Bandon Beach along the Oregon Coast. In the moment, his attention remained with the fundamental shapes and forms of the landscape, as well as the nostalgia for “bizarre, awesome, magical” colors of a traditional photographic negative, which he was no longer using. Printed in its original form for the first time, Bandon Beach # 1, Oregon Coast testifies to the allure of the natural landscape and the histories of human exploration that have motivated Misrach’s photography since the beginning.