Edited by Todd Bradway. D.A.P., April 2019. 368 p. ill. ISBN 9781942884262 (h/c), $55.00.
Reviewed November 2019
Leslie Vega, Reference Instruction Librarian, Macdonald-Kelce Library, University of Tampa, firstname.lastname@example.org
Landscape Painting Now is an ambitious large-format work with full-page, detailed color reproductions. Featuring eighty contemporary artists from c. 1960 to the present day, this survey aims for breadth rather than depth. Only a few paragraphs are devoted to each artist, but what the book lacks in hefty scholarship, it makes up for with excellent curatorship.
The introductory essay by art critic Barry Schwabsky provides the bulk of the writing, with supplemental additions by art historians Robert R. Shane, Louise Sorensen, and Susan A. Van Scoy. Schwabsky begins with the premise that contemporary landscape painting has been largely ignored, overshadowed by twentieth-century abstract expressionists or not categorized as “landscape,” and that throughout the history of Western painting, landscape has typically been relegated to a minor classical genre. This argument, however, is somewhat undercut by the sheer vastness of the collection. Major exhibitions of the past have, at least in part, focused on landscape and have featured many of the artists in this collection (see the 2004 57th Carnegie International, with Neo Rauch, Mamma Andersson, and Peter Doig), but, still, it is clear that landscape is having a major moment right now.
In attempts to include mid-twentieth-century abstract expressionists like Barnett Newman in this collection, Schwabsky grapples with the differences between the traditional “pictorial’ illustrative qualities of landscape painting and the conceptual essence of such work. Indeed, a hard definition of landscape may seem a moot point now, when dogmatic “isms” that used to dominate modern art are replaced by work that accepts all modes of intention, whether pictorial, abstract, conceptual, kitsch, or sublime. The thematic structure of the book, with chapters such as “Constructed Realities” and “Complicated Vistas,” are not categories so much as frameworks for thinking about our relationship to the world.
Certain suppositions this collection makes about painting as metaphor and how two-dimensional flatness is both limiting and transcendent are self-evident. Nature is beautiful, dangerous, alien, and a part of us, and, taking into account the troubling realities of the Anthropocene, some of the paintings in this collection reflect the artists’ experiences with rapid urbanization, climate change, and general human destruction, all of which inform our views as to what nature means to us in the twenty-first century.
That the act of painting can draw us closer to the world despite the disconnect between ourselves and the landscape around us is of perennial interest to artists, and it is apparent that the artists highlighted in this collection convey just that. What Landscape Painting Now ultimately shows is that the tension between ourselves and “nature” can make for excellent painting. This publication is best for undergraduate programs that would benefit from broad introductory surveys.