Landscapes In Passing: Photographs by Steve Fitch, Robbert Flick, and Elaine Mayes
2nd floor South, American Art Museum
(8th and F Streets, N.W.)
July 26, 2013 – January 20, 2014
The American landscape is one of the country’s most enduring artistic subjects, and has inspired generations of artists. The painters of the Hudson River School saw the sublime in it while survey photographers of the nineteenth century documented its distinctive features in images that often suggest supernatural majesty. Even in the twentieth century, as the land became increasingly settled and developed, the idyllic view of the American landscape persisted, notably in photographs by Ansel Adams. By the 1970s, however, a more prosaic view began to emerge—one informed by the reality of the interstate highway system and civilization’s rapid expansion into suburbs and exurbs. Landscapes in Passing: Photographs by Steve Fitch, Robbert Flick, and Elaine Mayes presents forty-eight photographs that depict the American landscape in passing, as drive-through scenery rather than the entrancing wilderness of the nineteenth century. These photographs, created in the 1970s and 1980s, invoke an increasingly mobile society and the telegraphic relationship to the natural world that it encourages. Decades later, these observations continue to resonate in an even more mediated contemporary environment.
The photographs by Fitch, from his series Diesels and Dinosaurs, capture the typical sights and attractions that defined roadside America. Flick’s pieces are drawn from photographs of Los Angeles neighborhoods taken while he traversed the streets, arranged in horizontal rows as in a contact sheet or filmstrip. Mayes’s photographs, from her Autolandscapes series, present America as seen from a moving car window.
The installation is part of a series that highlights objects from the museum’s collection that are rarely on public display. The artworks in this installation were selected by Lisa Hostetler, the museum’s McEvoy Family Curator for Photography.