On January 7, 2016, Haines Gallery opened The Fall, a series of recent colour photographs by California-based artist David Maisel. For nearly three decades, Maisel has created rigorous, captivating aerial photographs of landscapes affected by industry, agriculture, urban sprawl, and other forms of human intervention. Despite the political and environmental underpinning of these images, Maisel’s work refuses didactic interpretation, evoking instead an experience that the artist has called the “apocalyptic sublime.”
In the fall of 2013, Maisel was commissioned to photograph the city of Toledo, Spain, for Toledo Contemporánea, an exhibition commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of the painter El Greco. After completing the Toledo works, Maisel set to work on The Fall, depicting landscapes between Toledo and Madrid that have been impacted by industrial use, rapid development, and financial crisis. From the silvery extraction zones in Borox and the crosshatched fields in Fuensalida to the abandoned residential construction sites in Vicalvaro, Maisel’s powerful series conveys a sense of striking beauty and its inevitable decay. With their intersecting planes and muted palettes, Maisel’s painterly abstractions may suggest the alien, cubist landscapes of Picasso and Braque, if suggestive of landscapes at all. As Maisel explains, the making of this work was imbued with a sense of “the moment in one’s life when things begin to fall away.” It is ultimately toward this moment – writ large – that the exhibition and its title will point viewers as they fluctuate between visual pleasure and unease.
Maisel’s work has been exhibited internationally, in institutions that include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (CA); International Center of Photography (NY); Palais de Tokyo (Paris); Fotografie Forum International (Frankfurt); American Academy (Rome); Musée des Beaux Artes (Bordeaux); and Seoul Arts Center (Seoul). His photographs are in major public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), the Getty Museum (CA), the National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (CA), among others. His work has been the subject of five monographs: The Lake Project (Nazraeli Press, 2004), Oblivion (Nazraeli Press, 2006), Library of Dust (Chronicle Books, 2008), History’s Shadow (Nazraeli Press, 2011), and Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime (Steidl, 2013).
Maisel received his BA from Princeton University, studied at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and received his MFA from California College of the Arts. Maisel is the recipient of a 2008 Artist Residency from the Headlands Center for the Arts, and a 2007 Scholar/Artist Residency from the Getty Research Institute. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Center for Cultural Innovation. He was appointed a Trustee of the Headlands Center for the Arts in 2011. The artist lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2015, Maisel was recognised as one of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 100, a group honoured for their commitment to “asking the questions and making the provocations that will shape the future of American culture.”