JTF (just the facts): A total of 25 large scale photographic works by Richard Misrach, framed in dark brown and unmatted, and hung against white walls in a series of 4 connected rooms/spaces. All of the works are pigment prints mounted to Dibond or board, made between 2009 and 2015. Physical sizes range from roughly 15×11 to 84×110, with 64×84 the most common size (one group of 4 prints hung together is 86×229 in total, another group of 6 prints is 86×345 in total). Edition sizes are generally 5+1AP, with the large grids available in 2+1AP and the smallest prints in 7+1AP. Misrach’s contributions to the show also include 1 backpack/contents in a vitrine.
Misrach’s photographs are paired with 18 sculptures, musical instruments, found objects, musical scores, and sound installations by Guillermo Galindo, made between 2012 and 2015. All of these works are unique. A monograph of this joint body of work was published in 2016 by Aperture (here). A website for the project is here. The exhibition made previous stops at the Crsytal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Amon Carter Museum of Art, and the San Jose Museum of Art in 2016/2017. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Even before Donald Trump brought the border wall with Mexico to the forefront of the national discussion on trade and immigration, the nearly 2000-mile dividing line between the two nations was a complex point of ongoing dialogue. Employing an overly easy distinction between “open” and “closed” isn’t particularly effective in this case, as huge volumes of goods, materials, and people cross the border in both directions each and every day, creating vibrant economic activity for both nations and powering large cities on both sides of the invisible line. When drug smuggling, illegal immigration, and other crimes enter the picture, the story becomes even more complicated, with the everyday practicalities of a wide expanse of harsh rugged desert, law-and-order policing, real dollar costs, and nuanced human/family/community impacts often working at cross purposes.
Richard Misrach has been making his own artistic patrols of the border regions between California and Texas for the better part of the past decade, taking photographs of both the physical walls themselves as well as the specific sociological and cultural realities that inhabit the borderlands. And like an itinerant storyteller, Misrach has organized his images into cantos, breaking up the narrative of the border into smaller pieces that can be examined (and retold) more succinctly.
The first several sections of the project focus on the wall itself, tracking its transformations from vertical steel bars (not unlike an impossibly large picket fence) to wire mesh and post constructions that create semi-transparent screen effects. Wide landscape views of the dusty terrain turn the sinuous form of the wall into something akin to an abstract Earth Art installation, finding strange beauty in the undulating lines of oxidized steel hugging the rolling hills. The scale of these views is what makes them astonishing, the straight man-made lines slashing across the barren open space like Richard Serra sculptures emerging from the scrubland, eventually stubbing out into unforgiving mountains. Misrach then moves in closer to examine what is taking place on either side of the divider, finding endless rows of irrigated cabbages in the morning mist and crowded throngs of beachgoers separated by bars that dive into the waves, an obscured face peering through the layers of metal interruptions alluding to both the closeness and the distance of the contrived situation.
The successive sections set up two sides of opposition – the people who make the dangerous illegal crossing into the United States and the border patrol guards who try to stop them. Both groups are seen indirectly (there are no actual people in any of the images), each made visible by a taxonomy of discarded remnants found in the desert. Misrach shows us the risky plight of the travelers via lonely landscapes of water barrels placed in the sand by humanitarian groups (to prevent death by sun-baked dehydration) and by images of spooky scarecrow-like effigies that have appeared near tunnels and culverts like warnings or symbolic ghosts. He then telescopes in to document his small personal discoveries, from lost hats and shoes to discarded plastic bottles and toothpaste tubes, the individual objects gathered into a wall-filling grid of hasty passage and desperate action.
The activities of the border guards are clearly more systematic and ruthless. An image of a shooting range captures an empty but heavily used place, its dirt covered edge to edge with Pointillist dots of red and blue shell casings. Intimate pictures of various targets show consistently good marksmanship, with paper heads blown off and center-body heart shots piled up in dense ripping clusters. The activities in another grid of photographs aren’t so easily identified – old tires are tied together in small groups and left in the dust, some connected to chains or strips of wire. But the sculptural rubber circles have a purpose – they are used to drag the desert, flattening out and smoothing the sand so the guards can identify new footprints and recent pathways. It’s a low tech solution to a persistent problem, the improvised junkyard geometries clashing with the natural environment.
On their own, Misrach’s large scale photographs and massive grids of images run the risk of feeling a bit detached, the intense border situation made arm’s length, conceptual, and almost too formally beautiful. But this installation includes a nearly equal number of works by the composer/artist Guillermo Galindo, bringing both tactile physicality and aural cacophony to the combined artistic interaction. Galindo’s sculptures and soundscapes were made from the detritus found and collected by Misrach – the two were introduced during the middle of the Misrach’s efforts to photograph the border, and from then on, they shared resources.
Galindo’s works turn on the idea that objects contain a kind of connected primal essence, both inherent to their materials and infused by the prior owner/user. Using the discarded objects from the border, he has constructed makeshift instruments and resonant sculptures, and then used these objects to make symphonies of ambient sound that attempt to capture the spirit of the place and its people. Xylophone-like plinks and plonks cascade through the air of the galleries, interrupted by percussive smashes and crashes, the dissonance replicating the sense of anxiety that simmers in the border environment. There are some moments when the sounds feel rushed, like we are frantically running (or being chased), and others when the whole soundscape degrades into something like static, leaving us disoriented and hyper aware. As a complement to Misrach’s silent photographs, Galindo’s sculptures and sounds add a critical layer of presence, making the entire installation more experiential.
This artistic partnership seems extremely well balanced and thoughtfully integrated, with each artist bringing something to the combined effort that the other was lacking. The result is an exhibit that attacks the complex issues of the border with cooperative, multi-directional nuance. At a time when isolation is on the rise, the enthusiastic synergy between Misrach and Galindo seems even more important. It reminds us that to accurately see the contours of a difficult or contentious situation, more than one open-minded and informed perspective is often required.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. Misrach’s photographs range from $5200 to $125000, the majority ranging between $55000 and $85000, with several NFS. Misrach’s work is routinely available in the secondary markets, with prices ranging from roughly $2000 to $100000, with his newer, much larger prints at the top end of that scale. Galindo’s works range from $8000 to $65000, again with several on loan or NFS.