Hirshhorn Plaza

Directions: Walead Beshty, Legibility on Color Backgrounds
Walead Beshty, Six Color Curl (CMMYYC): Irvine, California, July 18th 2008, Fuji Crystal Archive Type C, 2008, color photographic paper; 93 ¾ x 50 in. irreg. Courtesy the artist and Wallspace, New York

April 30 to September 13, 2009
Los Angeles-based artist Walead Beshty (b. 1976) creates photographs and sculptures that reconsider some of the fundamental premises of modern art. His mesmerizing photographs blend an enduring fascination with modernist visual culture and an astute inquiry into the nature of photography. He often works with historical formats, including stereographs and photograms, but he also makes use of more recent technologies, such as color processors and digital printers. The resulting pieces reflect Beshty’s concomitant interest in the historical, conceptual, and formal premises of the medium. Moreover, his practice brings attention to the ideological underpinnings of aesthetics, the indeterminacy of viewing, and the ways that photography shapes our understanding of both history and the world around us.

The photograms in this exhibition update a cameraless process pioneered by early-20th-century artists László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray, who produced unique black-and-white prints by placing objects on photosensitive paper and then exposing them to light. Beshty recasts this technique by making use of color processing and large-scale printers. His oversized photograms feature interlocking facets of prismatic color that reflect the way the artist folds or curls the photographic paper before exposing it to light. The resulting works are seductive, elusive abstractions, yet they are actually material representations of the very process of their creation.

The exhibition also featured a group of shatterproof glass sculptures fabricated to fit in standard-sized FedEx boxes. The pieces are then shipped via FedEx, rather than professional art shippers, between the artist’s studio and each exhibition venue. Evocative of both Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass and later Minimalist sculptures, Beshty’s glass boxes acquire additional cracks each time they are exhibited, thereby providing a visual trace of their physical movements and, more broadly, the trafficking of contemporary art objects.

This exhibition was organized by associate curator Evelyn Hankins. Directions: Walead Beshty was made possible, in part, with support from Trellis Fund.

Selected Press

US Solo Shows, Art World, April/May 2009 (PDF)

Reviews: Walead Beshty, Modern Painters, December/January 2010 (PDF)

About the Directions Series
Since its opening in 1974, the Hirshhorn has been committed to providing a platform for the artists of today. Directions, established in 1979 as a group installation and transformed in 1987 to highlight the work of a single artist or paired artists, has been a longstanding hallmark of the Museum’s exhibition program and partnership with living artists. Bringing a diverse range of emerging and established artists from around the world to Washington, the series provides a prominent space on the National Mall for new work and new ideas.