by JoAnne Northrup. Hirmer, December 2017. 224 p. Ill. ISBN 9783777428536 (h/c), $45.00.
Reviewed September 2018
Ryan Evans, Archivist, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Evans.firstname.lastname@example.org
Unsettled was published as a catalog to the traveling exhibition originating at the Nevada Museum of Art from August 2017 to January 2018. Concurrent with the exhibition was the eponymously titled “Art + Environment” conference at the Nevada Museum of Art in October 2017, which featured presentations by many of the artists featured in the exhibition, as well as the co-organizers from the later sites of the exhibition, the Anchorage Museum of Art and the Palm Springs Art Museum.
The title of the exhibition is a nod to an expanded concept of regionalism, and is declared to be purposely ambiguous and open in the essay by curator JoAnne Northrup, where she lays out the five thematic areas “Shifting Ground,” “Colliding Cultures,” “Colonizing Resources,” “The Sublime Open,” and “Experimental Diversity.” Included in each of these thematic groupings is a work by the artist Ed Ruscha, who contributed to the conference and about whom Northrup says his “singular perspective on the world and experiences in the ever-changing West have informed the content of this exhibition, as well as shaped the selection of artworks for it.” In addition to works by Ruscha are contributions by various contemporary artists and works by indigenous artists, including ancient ceramics.
The concept of the Greater West explored in this exhibition is one that transcends the current political borders of the United States and takes into account the cultures of indigenous peoples, as well as geographical events that shaped the respective sites of the exhibition (Nevada, Alaska, and the Californian desert). The theoretical support for this exploration of a nonlinear concept of the Greater West is provided by Neil Campbell in his 2008 book The Rhizomatic West, in which the author takes his cue from the seminal text Mille Plateaux by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.
The catalog features an unconventional and attractive exposed glue and sewn binding with a wrap-around hard cover. Other unconventional design features include text interspersed throughout, namely Twitter poems by Allison Warden, and elements of another key text for essay contributor Julie Decker, Mountains of the Mind by British nature writer Robert MacFarlane, juxtaposed with illustrations of artworks from the exhibition. While the catalog is quite substantial and features numerous artwork illustrations and helpful contextual entries relating to the conference and concurrent programming at the Nevada Museum of Art, design does seem to trump content overall. Many of the essays are quite limited in length and are printed in large type. Despite this shortcoming and the overall reliance of the contributing authors on supporting texts, this catalog seems like a worthy contribution to art libraries collecting new thematic explorations in contemporary art exhibitions.