Jack Shainman Gallery is pleased to present Of a Different Nature, featuring works by El Anatsui, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Maya Lin. The exhibition juxtaposes these three masters who all engage the environment and share roots in a rigid formality that breaks apart into unexpected and often lyrical beauty.
Bernd and Hilla Becher spent their shared but extensive career photographing industrial landscapes across Europe and the United States. Water Towers, 2011 is from their iconic “typologies” series, in which structures or buildings are uniformly documented in black and white and arranged in a grid. Here, the formal similarities between nine New York water towers unfold, imbuing these utilitarian colossuses with a strangeness and familiarity all at once.
The meticulous yet organic seriality of the Bechers’ imagery is also present in the wall-based works of El Anatsui. Metas marks a recent development in Anatsui’s practice in which he utilizes pieces of discarded printing plates to form monochromatic compositions. The repeating grey squares, each one subtly unique, come together in constellations that are both thoroughly graphic and distinctly biotic. Adding to their mutable quality is that every time they are exhibited, the works are installed with myriad variations, the folds, swells, and dips animating the metallic tapestries as they spread across the wall.
If the Bechers draw our attention to repeating man-made structures used to contain and reserve natural resources, and Anatsui’s work speaks to mass production, waste, and recycling, the interest in human intervention in the landscape comes full circle in Maya Lin, whose work meditates on the earth’s disappearing natural features. For the Bodies of Water series, sculptures of various inland seas are rendered in stratified plywood layers, balancing gently on pedestals. Caspian Sea, which is the largest landlocked body of water on Earth, depicts the scaled volume of the titular sea as a three-dimensional mass, suggesting there is more to this natural landmark than the tranquil surface that typically meets the eye.
Working across disparate media, the Bechers, Anatsui, and Lin each shape their raw materials to exquisite ends. In their hands, the ordering nature of the grid is no longer static, but an ever-shifting form open to the vast array of agricultural, commercial, environmental, and technological interventions of the contemporary climate.