Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Edward Burtynsky: Oil

Mixing politics and art or any kind is a dangerous thing. Unless you're The Clash, it can come out ham-fisted or preachy. The current show at the Corcoran features the globe-spanning photography of Edward Byrtynsky. The show goes from the vast lifeless oil fields of his home country in Canada and expanses of abandoned junk across the planet to the congestion of Los Angeles and tangles of oil pipes in factories. It is absolutely a political exhibit, but even with the clear title and overarching theme, the politics is only as loud as you want it to be.

Each piece stands by itself as a stunning work of art. The photos are huge, bright and intensely detailed. The deep, deep colors from dark black of the oil itself to the bright perfected green grass of new housing developments, make each piece eye-catching. Perhaps the most amazing shots take place as the end of the lifecycle. One photo show helicopters stretching to the horizon, looking more like bugs than machinery. Another focuses on the intense red of rusted metal and sheer scale of a ship that will be broken down in a ship graveyard.

Corcoran has had a number of really excellent photography exhibits in the past few years -- William Eggleston and Richard Avadon plus Annie Lebovitz and Ansel Adams showing at the same time back in 2007 -- but this may be my favorite. Rarely is a show this sprawling (it covers the entire globe and full expanse of human creation and invention) and yet so focused in it's quality and beauty.

At the end I took away the message not that oil is evil, but that there is that we've built a long and incredible chain of actions around this fuel, and we would be wise to observe it's full path.


Z said...

Thanks for the heads up -- when does this exhibit close?

Max Nova said...

The show closes December 13.

Anne said...

I miss museuming with you