Paradise lost, found and reconsidered
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, August 31, 2012
Artisphere’s new exhibition, “Beyond the Parking Lot: The Change and Re-Assessment of Our Modern Landscape,” was partially inspired by the Joni Mitchell tune “Big Yellow Taxi.” You know the one: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Yet those sentiments don’t honestly encapsulate the show. And that’s a good thing. Much ink, not to mention paint, has been spilled over mankind’s transformation of natural landscapes. But “Beyond the Parking Lot” takes the idea one step further, examining what happens when humans tear down trees with the intent of industrialization, only to abandon the lot.
It all started when curator Cynthia Connolly stumbled upon an old strip mall in Prince William County. What might have once housed a string of chain stores had been deserted, leaving nothing but empty boxes with “For Lease” signs. It’s a familiar image, and one worth considering: What are our obligations to the land once we’ve co-opted it? Should we just let nature take its course, reclaiming all that asphalt and concrete, glass and steel? Or should we actively return the area to its original state?
The show provides no clear answers, but it does offer many worthwhile meditations on the theme.
Among them is “Baltimore Panorama, I-95 and I-395,” a series by standout local photographer Frank Hallam Day. The artist was taken with an abandoned lot near Baltimore, a stretch of asphalt bordered by water and hidden under an interstate’s curving overpasses. Day visited the area 400 times, taking photos in all different weather and times of day. The black-and-white selection at Artisphere is a nine-photo panorama in which human activity is pervasive even though there isn’t a person in sight. A Volvo rests at the water’s edge while the highway hovers just overhead, weighing down the top of each frame with intimations of tractor-trailers and morning commutes. Industrial buildings and totems of smokestacks rise in the distance. It’s at once peaceful and sad, as if this lonely expanse remains just beyond a hive of activity.
The opposite wall features another compelling series. Charlottesville-based artist Richard Crozier created a patchwork of paintings with rows of 12-by-16-inch oil sketches, 110 of them in all. Each little landscape shows an area in the process of becoming something else, whether the evidence is a bulldozer or a pile of dirt in a parking lot. In many cases, Crozier’s subjects were projects that had been dreamed up and then deserted. Some of the sketches provide a bit of comedy with familiar mementos -- from a ditched truck featuring a Fritos logo to the vague outline of a luminescent beacon in the form of an Arby’s sign. Crozier doesn’t need to paint in detail for these roadside fixtures to be instantly recognizable.
One of the most fascinating installations is “Cyclorama,” by Philadelphia-based artist Alex Lukas. The work is on a curved canvas, measuring 14 feet in diameter, 33 feet long and more than 4 feet high, surrounding the viewer. It looks oppressively bleak at first, as the marshlike landscape is dominated by a blanket of gray clouds reflected in a similarly hued body of water. But the tiny details appear painstakingly rendered in the piece, which blends various media. The airbrush backdrop is adorned with acrylic mountains in the distance. Reeds and trees in the foreground are gouache and ink.
Similar scenery pops up along the train ride from Washington to New York, and most travelers probably don’t give the view outside a second glance. Here, though, blighted stretches that humans earmarked for progress only to be forgotten are well worth close inspection.
The story behind 'The Survivors'
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, August 31, 2012
Despite man’s best efforts, nature will not be squelched. That seems to be the message in Julia Christensen’s slide show in Artisphere’s Bijou Theatre, even though her photos have nothing to do with the large-scale destruction of natural disasters. Rather, the artist captures the small, easily overlooked scenes of plants and flowers growing through the cracks in asphalt and concrete in Oberlin, Ohio, where she lives.
The slide show, part of the “Beyond the Parking Lot” exhibit, culminates with Christensen’s twist on botanical sketches. Instead of examining poppies and peonies, she chronicles the unnamed and undocumented plants that grow in parking lots rather than garden beds.