Warhol Foundation supports major Fall 2021 Harvard Art Museums photography exhibition
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Warhol Foundation supports major Fall 2021 Harvard Art Museums photography exhibition
Ashley Gilbertson (Australian, b. 1978), A resident talks to workers in the Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco, California on May 5, 2017, 2017. Archival pigment print. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Fund for the Acquisition of Photographs, 2020.166. © Ashley Gilbertson/VII; image courtesy of the artist.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- The Harvard Art Museums have been awarded a $100,000 grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts to support the upcoming Fall 2021 exhibition Devour the Land: War and American Landscape Photography since 1970. The exhibition will be the first to address the unknown and often unexpected ways habitats and well-being in the United States are affected by American warfare and the military-industrial complex. The grant, which was announced as part of the Warhol Foundation’s Fall 2021 grants program, provides general support for the project. Devour the Land is organized by the Harvard Art Museums and will include a catalogue and robust public programming.

With more than 130 works across 7 thematic groupings, the exhibition illustrates the national footprint of the military on the environment, the wide range of industries directly related to these activities, and the human impact of and responses to this activity. The exhibition finds its historic roots in the Civil War era, with images that show the devastation left by troops who were instructed by General William Tecumseh Sherman to ransack farms and indiscriminately set fires to eliminate the transportation and industrial infrastructure that sustained the Confederate Army. “We have devoured the land,” he declared. While recognizing its links to a trajectory that originated in the 19th century, Devour the Land begins with the 1970s, a dynamic period for environmental activism and photography, and includes a concentration of works from the 1980s onward by an international roster of 53 artists.

“We are grateful to The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for their generous support of Devour the Land,” said Martha Tedeschi, the Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard Art Museums. “Photographs, for their part, are often described as bearing witness, a kind of silent and objective reportage on events both public and private. The artists featured in Devour the Land, however, remind us that photographs are usually anything but passive documentation; they are an active invitation to look beyond the surface at what is unseen, a call to attention and at times a call to action.”

The photographers represented range from professional photographic artists and photojournalists to lesser known and emerging photographers, including Robert Adams, Federica Armstrong, Sheila Pree Bright, Robert Del Tredici, Joshua Dudley Greer, Terry Evans, Lucas Foglia, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Sharon Gilbert, Ashley Gilbertson, David T. Hanson, Stacy Kranitz, Jin Lee, Freda Leinwand, Elaine Mayes, Susan Meiselas, Richard Misrach, Barbara Norfleet, Oscar Palacio, Mark Power, Eli Reed, Jeff Rich, Sim Chi Yin, Sharon Stewart, Robert Toedter, Stephen Tourlentes, Alex Webb, and Will Wilson. Devour the Land showcases photographers involved in grassroots environmental movements and who address the intersection of issues of militarism, land use, land management, and public health. Moreover, the project highlights the people of color whose communities are often overlooked in environmental photography. Because these are the very communities that bear the most direct environmental effects of our militarized landscape, race is an inescapable consideration in this study.

The majority of works slated for the exhibition come from the permanent collections of the Harvard Art Museums, with many recently acquired. Additional works will be on loan from other Harvard University repositories, North American public institutions, and private collections.

“We are very pleased to support the Harvard Art Museums and the exhibition Devour the Land: War and American Landscape Photography since 1970. Its attention to historic and contemporary intersections of photography and environmental destruction frames a new and important consideration of both the reverberations of military aggression and the power of photography to capture and shift them,” said Rachel Bers, Program Director of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. “The exhibition exemplifies the foundation’s belief that visual artists make vital contributions to social, political, and cultural conversations, opening new pathways of thought and action.”

Devour the Land is curated by Makeda Best, the Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography; she joined the Harvard Art Museums in 2017. In addition to publishing widely in scholarly journals and catalogues, she is author of a recently released book on Civil War–era documentary war photography, Elevate the Masses: Alexander Gardner, Photography and Democracy in Nineteenth-Century America (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2020). Her previous exhibitions at Harvard include Time is Now: Photography and Social Change in James Baldwin’s America (2018) and Crossing Lines, Constructing Home: Displacement and Belonging in Contemporary Art (2019), which she curated with Mary Schneider Enriquez, the Houghton Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Harvard Art Museums.

As Best explains: “These works evince a number of concerns, often operating simultaneously and including: communicating the physical and ecological realities of these landscapes; developing approaches that convey the meaning and impact of invisible or diffuse pollutants and toxins; and raising awareness about economic fallout and racial injustice as integral aspects of landscape. The images ask us to consider the ‘costs’—to life, society, our collective well-being, and to nature.”

Devour the Land will be on display September 17, 2021 through January 16, 2022 in the Special Exhibitions Gallery at the Harvard Art Museums. The accompanying illustrated catalogue will present a range of voices at the intersection of art, environmentalism, militarism, photography, and politics, including an essay by Abrahm Lustgarten, senior environmental reporter for ProPublica. The publication is also enhanced by two poems by award-winning poet Ed Roberson and interviews with several of the foremost contemporary artists working in the landscape photography tradition: Sheila Pree Bright, Terry Evans, Ashley Gilbertson, David T. Hanson, Stacy Kranitz, Jin Lee, Richard Misrach, Barbara Norfleet, and Oscar Palacio.

In addition to the grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Devour the Land is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Publication Funds; the Bolton Fund for American Art, Gift of the Payne Fund; the Rosenblatt Fund for Postwar American Art; and the John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Fund for Photography.

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