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September 27, 2021 (November 05, 2021)

Celebrated Photographer Robert Adams Explores 50 Years of the American Landscape in Retrospective Exhibition at the National Gallery of Art

Robert Adams, Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, 1969

Robert Adams
Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, 1969
gelatin silver print
image: 14 x 14.9 cm (5 1/2 x 5 7/8 in.)
Private collection, San Francisco
© Robert Adams, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Washington, DC—For 50 years, Robert Adams (b. 1937) has made compelling, provocative, and highly influential photographs that show the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it. American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams celebrates the art of this seminal American photographer and explores the reverential way he looks at the world around him and the almost palpable silence of his work. Organized in cooperation with the artist, the exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog. American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams is on view from May 29 through October 2, 2022, in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.

Capturing the sense of peace and harmony created through what Adams calls "the silence of light" that can be seen on the prairie, in the woods, and by the ocean, American Silence features some 175 pictures from 1965 to 2015. Other images on view question our moral silence to the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialization, and lack of environmental stewardship. Divided into three sections—The Gift, Our Response, and Tenancy—the exhibition includes works from not only the artist’s most important projects but also lesser-known ones that depict suburban sprawl, strip malls, highways, homes, and stores, as well as rivers, skies, the prairie, and the ocean. While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.

"The photographs in this exhibition encourage us to experience the sense of silence that the beauty of nature can inspire while asking us to question our own silent complicity in the face of its desecration," said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art. "We are deeply grateful to Robert Adams and his wife, Kerstin, for their steadfast commitment to this endeavor and for their many donations to the National Gallery. I would like to extend our thanks to the Trellis Fund, Jane P. Watkins, The Shared Earth Foundation, Randi and Bob Fisher, Wes and Kate Mitchell, Nion McEvoy, Greg and Aline Gooding, and the James D. and Kathryn K. Steele Fund for Photography whose generous support has made this exhibition possible as well as to all our lenders for their willingness to share their treasured works of art with our public."

Exhibition Organization

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

The exhibition and catalog are made possible through the leadership support of the Trellis Fund and a generous gift from Jane P. Watkins.

The exhibition is also made possible in part by The Shared Earth Foundation.

Additional support is provided by Randi and Bob Fisher, Wes and Kate Mitchell, Nion McEvoy, Greg and Aline Gooding, and the James D. and Kathryn K. Steele Fund for Photography.

Exhibition Curator

The exhibition is curated by Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art.

Exhibition Tour

National Gallery of Art, May 29–October 2, 2022
Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, October 29, 2022–January 29, 2023

"The photography of Robert Adams is foundational to the Carol Franc Buck Altered Landscape Photography Collection at the Nevada Museum of Art,” said David B. Walker, the museum’s CEO. “We are honored and excited to be the only West Coast venue to host this important exhibition that is aligned with our institution’s longtime commitment to exploring creative interactions with natural and built environments."

About the Exhibition

The exhibition begins with The Gift, which presents selected works that reveal the silence, beauty, peace, and spiritual harmony found in the landscape itself. Spanning three decades, this section includes photographs from Prairie (1978), Perfect Times, Perfect Places (1988), Listening to the River (1994), Pine Valley (2005), and This Day (2011). These pictures demonstrate the artist's exceptional ability to find the sublime in the vast vistas and quiet, often overlooked, corners of the sparse and fragile American West, particularly in Colorado and Oregon, two areas of the country that Adams knows intimately. Infused with a deep understanding of the way light articulates forms, these photographs illuminate the natural world and demonstrate how Adams seeks to illustrate, in his own words, "a quiet so absolute that it allows one to begin again, to love the future."

The largest section of the exhibition, Our Response examines how Americans have dealt with both the potential and the vulnerability of the West. Divided into six thematic subjects arranged chronologically, this section begins with “Early Hispanic and Plains Communities,” including work from some of the artist’s earliest publications: White Churches of the Plains (1970), The Architecture and Art of Early Hispanic Colorado (1974), and Prairie (1978). These pictures portray the respectful nature of older settlements in the West and acknowledge the importance of the gravel roads, farmhouses, furrowed fields, stores, and churches. They also demonstrate how early settlers attempted to achieve a unity with nature, rather than dominate over it.

"Our Imprint on the Land" and "A New West" feature works from seminal early publications by Adams: The New West: Landscapes along the Colorado Front Range (1974), denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area (1977), From the Missouri West (1980), and What We Bought: The New World, Scenes from the Denver Metropolitan Area, 1970–1974 (1995). "Our Imprint on the Land" includes pic­tures made along the Missouri River around the time of the 1976 bicenten­nial of the United States, a moment of national reflection on the past and assessment of the present. The photographs in "A New West" address the construction of a new kind of American environment. Dominated by cars, highways, cheaply fabricated homes, and commercial developments, these pictures emphasize the lack of community and the great isolation that grew in these new suburban communities.

"Our Lives and Our Children" depicts the area near Rocky Flats, a nuclear weapons plant northwest of Denver, where Adams photographed the simple dignity of everyday people to illustrate what would be lost in a nuclear disaster. Our Response ends with "Southern California" and "A Mythic Forest," drawing works from two of his sharpest critiques: Los Angeles Spring (1986), depicting the destruction of the fragile landscape around Los Angeles in the early 1980s, and Turning Back: A Photographic Journal of Re-exploration (2005), illustrating the American timber industry’s exploitation of the North­west forests.

American Silence concludes with a selection of works from one of the artist's recent books, Tenancy: Between the River and the Sea; The Nehalem Spit, the Coast of Oregon (2017). Divided into three parts, this series of photographs was made between 2013 and 2015 along a two-mile promontory on the Oregon coast, the Nehalem Spit. The first examines the eastern edge of the spit where massive tree stumps washed up on the shore reveal the brutality of the clearcutting done farther up the Nehalem River. The second part looks at the spit itself, a sanctuary of small trees, meadows, and dunes resting near a large geologic fault, and the third depicts the ever-changing beauty and wonder of the ocean to the west, as well as the people who seek "to escape illusion and to be reconciled," as Adams noted. Tenancy illustrates his belief that we are only temporary occupants of the land that nourishes and sustains us, and it reveals the strength of his convictions, his deep spirituality, and the eloquent power of his vision.

Exhibition Catalog

Published by the National Gallery of Art and Aperture, New York, American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams traces the evolution of his work, highlighting the importance of faith to his art and—through his elegant visual reckonings—how "what was" has become "what is." It is richly illustrated, with over 200 compelling photographs that explore the profound questions of our responsibility to the land and the moral dilemmas of progress. This extensive 332-page monograph includes award-winning curator Sarah Greenough's in-depth examination of the evolution of his art as well as personal reflections by the celebrated nonfiction author Terry Tempest Williams and writings by Adams himself, along with a timeline of the artist’s life.

The book is available for purchase in the shops in the West Building and East Building; shop.nga.gov; (800) 697-9350 (phone); or [email protected].

Related Activities
Concert

Alarm Will Sound
Ten Thousand Birds by John Luther Adams
June 5, 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.
West Building, West Garden Court
In this composition, performers and audience move freely around the space and each other, birdsong becomes music, instrumental sounds transmute into natural ones, and the West Garden Court becomes artistic space, where the lines blur between human creativity and natural phenomena.

Lecture and Book Signing
Bill McKibben: Time Intrudes
June 17,  1:00 p.m.
West Building Lecture Hall
Registration is required and opens June 10 at noon.
Bill McKibben, author, educator, and activist  
Book signing follows of The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened.

Update: April 18, 2022
This update includes the addition of related activities.

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Audio/Video:
Introduction to the Show: American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams

American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams
National Gallery of Art, May 29–October 2, 2022
Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, October 29, 2022-January 29, 2023

For 50 years, Robert Adams (b. 1937) has made compelling, provocative, and highly influential photographs that show us the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it. American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams explores the reverential way he looks at the world around him and the almost palpable silence of his work. Many of these photographs of the American West capture the sense of peace and harmony that the beauty of nature can instill in us—"the silence of light," as he calls it, that he sees on the prairie, in the woods, and by the ocean. Other pictures question our silent complicity in the desecration of that beauty by consumerism, industrialization, and lack of environmental stewardship. Divided into three sections—The Gift, Our Response, and Tenancy—the exhibition features some 175 works from the artist’s most important projects and includes pictures of suburban sprawl, strip malls, highways, homes, and stores, as well as rivers, skies, the prairie, and the ocean. While these photographs lament the ravages that have been inflicted on the land, they also pay homage to what remains.

The exhibition is curated by Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

The exhibition and catalog are made possible through the leadership support of the Trellis Fund and a generous gift from Jane P. Watkins.

The exhibition is also made possible in part by The Shared Earth Foundation.

Additional support is provided by Randi and Bob Fisher, Wes and Kate Mitchell, Nion McEvoy, Greg and Aline Gooding, and the James D. and Kathryn K. Steele Fund for Photography.
 

Contact Information

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phone: (202) 842-6353
e-mail: [email protected]

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