The Contemporary Museum's Misrach Exhibit

A Not-To-Be-Missed Photo Collage

The Contemporary Museum's Misrach Exhibit

The Contemporary Museum in Oahu's Makiki Heights has perhaps one of the most fascinating and provocative photography exhibits in recent memory. Through March 9, 2008, "On the Beach: Photographs by Richard Misrach", originally initiated by the Art Institute of Chicago, will be on display.

First, a few words from the artist's mouth, directly:

"The photographs that appear in 'On the Beach' were made between January 2002 and November 2005," said Misrach. "My thinking was influenced by the events of 9/11, as well as by the 1950s Cold War novel and film, On the Beach. I was drawn to the fragility and grace of the human figure in the landscape. For me, the work is both a celebration of our survival and an elegy. Paradise has become an uneasy dwelling place; the sublime sea frames our vulnerability, the precarious nature of life itself."

Why are we so excited about this exhibit? Easy. The images, all of which were shot on an all-to-familiar Hawaiian beach, are scenes any one of us could encounter, on any given day. However, with Misrach's grandiose scale (he used a view camera that produces 8 by 10 negatives, allowing him to create prints that approach 6 by 10 feet) and lack of horizon, the images become nothing short of eerie. Random couplings of people sunning themselves on a beach; a handful of swimmers exiting the water in the same direction, at the same time; a couple affectionately embracing in what appears to be the middle of the sea-all reveal a creepy voyeuristic nature that provokes thoughts of human vulnerability.

The idea that these images were taken without the beach-goers knowledge, ties in with the period in which they were taken. Misrach was reeling from the after effects of September 11, 2001. His barren landscapes and desert environs that had been his muse for over a decade were no longer inspiring. Yet staring out of a hotel window, watching people in the midst of their ocean rituals-as in one print that shows two individuals floating in azure seas-released a sense of awe and uneasiness from within the artist. Like the victims of the terrorist attacks, they had no sense that someone was watching.

Contemporary Museum chief curator Jay Jensen shared with us that the exhibit had such a profound effect on him, he is embarking on a subsequent exhibit and potential book that documents photographic images shot in Hawaii, from artists not from or living in Hawaii.

The Contemporary Museum is open Tuesdays through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

It's located at 2411 Makiki Heights Drive, in Honolulu.

Admission is $5.

"The work is both a celebration of our survival and an elegy. Paradise has become an uneasy dwelling place; the sublime sea frames our vulnerability, the precarious nature of life itself." – Misrach