Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and G Streets, NW)
The American landscape has inspired generations of artists, but the 48 photographs in this presentation— by Steve Fitch, Robbert Flick and Elaine Mayes— are a far cry from traditional representations of the subject. Where painters of the Hudson River School saw the sublime and survey photographers of the 19th century discerned supernatural majesty in America’s landscapes, Fitch, Flick and Mayes find evidence of civilization’s rapid expansion into suburbs and exurbs. This view updated the idyllic portrayal of the American landscape that had persisted into the 20th century, notably in photographs by Ansel Adams. Informed by the reality of the interstate highway system and the increasingly mediated culture of 1970s America, these photographers depict the country in passing, as drive-through scenery rather than entrancing wilderness. Their images, created between 1971 and 1980, foreshadow today’s even more media-saturated environment and the telegraphic relationship to the natural world that it encourages.