The Story Behind the 'Scale Matters' Exhibit

"Rock of Ages No. 7," above, by Edward Burtynsky, reveals a portable toilet amid granite cliffs in a Vermont quarry. Lynn Davis says she aims to capture the aesthetic of "emptiness" in "Iceberg XI, Disko Bay, Greenland," below, not to comment on global warming. (By Edward Burtynsky)
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Friday, December 5, 2008

It's tempting to read a cautionary statement about global warming into Lynn Davis's gorgeous photos of icebergs. And maybe there is one, despite the artist's claims that she's interested in a formal, Buddhist-inspired aesthetic of "emptiness" more than anything.

It's harder to take Edward Burtynsky's claims of message ambiguity seriously. His pictures, according to the show's wall text, "search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear." And yet there are subtle signals that the artist doesn't feel entirely neutral about the industrial forces that are often at the heart of his landscapes.

Take a look at "Rock of Ages No. 7 (Active Granite Section, Wells-Lamson Quarry, Barre, Vermont)." Sure, we're all torn between our love of granite kitchen countertops and our distaste for despoiling Earth. But could Burtynsky's vertiginous composition -- which places a tiny blue object almost dead center in the middle of the quarry -- be his way of editorializing about man's disregard for our precious natural resources?

Take a closer look. That's right. That tiny blue box at the center of the picture is a Port-o-Let brand portable toilet.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

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