An American in Paris: it’s a familiar trope. But Letha Wilson’s first solo show at Galerie Christophe Gaillard—and in all of Europe, for that matter—turns the stereotype on its head. Instead of a wide-eyed American being charmed by the City of Lights, it’s a French gallery that’s now intrigued by a Brooklyn-based artist and her visions of a distinctly American landscape.
Born in Honolulu, raised in Colorado, and educated in New York, Wilson has experienced a wide swath of the United States. But it’s the wide-open scenery of the American West—the russet-red cliffs, shadowy canyons, starry deserts, and stark vegetation of California, Utah and Colorado—that inspired her most recent collection of mixed-media works. On long hikes through the region, Wilson photographed broad panoramas and fine details. As critic Anne Doran rather unsentimentally pointed out last year in Art in America, Wilson is only an amateur photographer: “the pictures are indeed nothing special: vistas of mountains and deserts, indistinguishable from vacation photographs taken at any time over the last century.” This artist’s talent rests not in her ability to capture an image, but in her ability to manipulate them.
Wilson takes her landscape prints and folds them, cuts them, tears them into pieces, covers them in cement; she layers, magnifies and distorts her own pictures, often beyond simple recognition. The result? Sculptural installations that emphasize the relationship between architecture and nature—and challenge the viewer to consider the value of photographing landscapes in the first place. As Wilson says of her own work, “In the photo-based sculptures the ability for a photograph to transport the viewer is both called upon, and questioned … Landscape photography as a genre is approached with equal parts reverence and skepticism.”
Her show at Christophe Gaillard raises philosophical questions, perfect for a sophisticated Parisian audience that’s interested in the American West, but expects, of course, something more than a collection of pretty road trip snapshots of the Badlands and the Grand Tetons.
Letha Wilson’s solo show is on view at Galerie Christophe Gaillard in Paris, Oct. 9—Nov. 15, 2014.