Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen

June 21, 2018 — January 6, 2019

Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, NW)

Trevor Paglen blurs the lines between art, science, and investigative journalism to construct unfamiliar and at times unsettling ways to see and interpret the world around us. Inspired by the landscape tradition, he captures the same horizon seen by American photographers Timothy O’Sullivan in the nineteenth century and Ansel Adams in the twentieth. Only in Paglen’s photographs is the infrastructure of surveillance also apparent---a classified military installation, a spy satellite, a tapped communications cable, a drone, an artificial intelligence (AI).

Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen is a mid-career survey, the first exhibition to present Paglen’s early photographic series alongside his recent sculptural objects and new work with AI. It carries on the long history of programs by the Smithsonian American Art Museum examining America’s changing relationship to the landscape. With this presentation, SAAM is contributing to the important and ongoing conversation about privacy and surveillance in contemporary society.

Paglen’s photographs show something we are not meant to see, whose concealment he regards as symptomatic of the historical moment we inhabit. His objects act in opposition to what his images have exposed, imagining another and potentially different world. Paglen is a conceptual artist with activist intentions. Helping to better see the particular moment we live in and producing spaces in which to envision alternative futures are among his chief concerns.

Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen is organized by John Jacob, SAAM’s McEvoy Family Curator for Photography, and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.


Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from the Carolyn Small Alper Exhibitions Fund, the Altman Siegel Family, Joanne and Richard Brodie, Joanne and Richard Brodie Exhibition Endowment, Elizabeth Broun, the Elizabeth Broun Curatorial Endowment, the James F. Dicke Family Endowment, Sheila Duignan and Mike Wilkins, Arthur Fleischer, Jr. and Susan Fleischer, Carole Gigliotti in honor of Paula and Peter Lunder, mark sanford gross and billy ocallaghan, Alex Lakatos and Kelly Riser Lakatos, Lannan Foundation, Paula and Peter Lunder, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Nion McEvoy, the Jack and Marjorie Rachlin Curatorial Endowment, the Smithsonian Council for American Art,
the Bernie Stadiem Endowment Fund, and Elizabeth B. and Laurence I. Wood.

Support for the exhibition’s tour was provided by: the C. F. Foundation, Atlanta, Georgia and the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund.

Media - 2012.24.1 - SAAM-2012.24.1_1-000001 - 82537

Trevor Paglen, STSS-1 and Two Unidentified Spacecraft over Carson City (Space Tracking and Surveillance System, USA 205), 2010, chromogenic print, Smithsonian American Art Museum, © 2010, Trevor Paglen, Gift of Mike Wilkins and Sheila Duignan, 2012.24.1